My painting “When You Are Spinning”
I started this painting, “When You Are Spinning,” when I first settled into my apartment in Seattle. It is inspired by my friend Steven Foster, a fantastic writer and creative force, who has been facing a number of challenges lately and who always heads forward into that abyss with great energy — whether its manic enthusiasm for the future or absolute dread with the present situation. The painting is of his office, a space that he remodels constantly — and always feels in motion and full of the energy of whatever Steven’s current project happens to be.
While I was painting I was listening to an episode of This American Life that just hit me. In it, the narrator describes the thrill of being on a carnival ride, in the midst of some personal tragedy. “It reminds you that when you are close to death and intimate with it, when you are spinning fast and high in the dark night with nothing around you, it is difficult to know what is happening,” he says. “It is difficult to be afraid, far more difficult than it is on the ground.”
When you are in the swing of this wild and crazy, wondrous life, it is hard to be afraid. But when things come to a standstill, anxiety is an easy companion to acquire. The problem is that life is full of hiccups and set-backs. I think for artists, this may be even more true, because we have consigned ourselves to a journey of self-discovery and constant reinvention.
In “No More Secondhand Art,” Peter London writes that “not knowing” is an important part of the creative process. Artists face not knowing when we stare at a blank canvas — but everyone deals with this — in our day-to-day lives with partnerships, friendships and basic experiences.
“Our usual response is to shrink back from the encounter,” London writes. “As a consequence, we are likely to fall back upon tired ways, disengage from the actual circumstances we find ourselves in and rerun past scenarios. The failure to make contact with the reality we’re in causes us in turn to feel out of our element and disempowered. In this dispirited state, we certainly do not feel in a mood for creative play or adventures of the imagination.”
I’m not sure how to become more engaged in actual circumstances and face the fear of the unknown — but it definitely seems worth spending time figuring out.
Peter London reminds us that “When all is empty, all is ready” and that “it is the zero point from which new things spring.”
He writes that “fear is the symptom indicating that great things are being confronted, the boundaries of what we take to be safe, real and good.”
And in regards to dealing with the past, I love this quote from him, “We must learn to discriminate between when the wind is blowing and when our memory is howling. We must take courage to breach the walls we have built to keep out the real dangers and test whether they are still present or have gone their ways. And when it ceases to howl outside, we must have the wherewithal to let it also go from our minds and turn to the new day.”