My friend Justin Dunford once told me that artists suffer, because they have something they want to do so badly it makes it difficult to do anything else.
I’ve been starting every morning painting in an attempt to remind myself that I have some control over my own time. But as soon as my morning session is up, the day descends into the chaos of working as a freelance reporter — non-stop phone interviews, looming deadlines and calls from stressed-out, frantic editors.
I am desperate for more time to create. And honestly just time to think clearly about things, and the space to not think, which is so essential to the artistic process.
Today I had the type of morning that made me just want to crawl back into bed and press reset. Instead, I had to keep calling sources, rearranging photo shoots, taking notes. Finally, I took a nap.
My phone kept ringing anyway, and I woke up in a haze. I couldn’t think clearly, and so just laying there, I read an excerpt from Brain Pickings — which noted that psychologist Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi felt “the poet’s responsibility to be a witness, a recorder of experience, is part of the broader responsibility we all have for keeping the universe ordered through our consciousness.”
Csiksgentmihalyi interviewed poet Mark Strand, who said, “we’re made of the same stuff that stars are made of, or that floats around in space. But we’re combined in such a way that we can describe what it’s like to be alive, to be witnesses. Most of our experience is that of being a witness. We see and hear and smell other things. I think being alive is responding.”
I believe that he’s onto something. If being alive is about being a witness, taking it all in and describing the wonder of the world — then being an artist is a worthy calling. At least for me, painting is about looking at the world, feeling deeply and trying to communicate what I see and learn to others.
Recently, I went to the True/False Film Festival and among the great documentaries I saw was “The Music of Strangers” about Yo-Yo Ma and his amazing music. He said the purpose of art and music is to “give us meaning.”
“You can turn fear into joy,” he says.