Beauty and Communion

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A work in progress inspired by Aimee Herman

I have been hard at work building an homage to memory and a physical space to examine emotion. It’s been perhaps more challenging and more of a heavy experience than I expected. Although, of course, I should have expected exactly that.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about life,” I tell my mom with a sigh. She says, “Of course you have. Your exhibit is called, ‘Life, Examined.’ What else would you be doing?”

I find a note from an ex-boyfriend. He wrote to me, “I wish I felt the same kind of attractions you feel. They seem overwhelming, like you have no control. I don’t think as strong as you feel things. You are a pretty powerful being. So be careful.”

It’s a delicate balance — being careful, but not living in fear, wanting to have passion, but not to be out of control with emotions. Not having a choice about being emotional, I at least want to be around people who can be open and loving and go on a courageous journey with me.

My friend Stan came to town to see the show and as usual we talked about the world’s problems and our proposed solutions. We spoke about art mostly.

One reason that I stepped back from the art scene was because of all the huge egos I kept encountering along the way. (And still encounter often). I don’t think that art should be about your ego, the self, your identity.Who you are, of course, gives you a unique perspective of the world — and if you live authentically, and openly, that will allow you to produce real and effective art. But I believe that art should be bigger than just an exploration of the self.

There was a great article about Chuck Close in the Sunday New York Times by Wil S. Hylton. The painter has also become a bit of a recluse lately.

Hylton has spent a lot of time trying to understand Close. In the article, he describes the art:

What you are seeing isn’t really there. You are no longer looking at the actual surface of the painting, but some apparition hovering above it, a numinous specter that arises in part from the engagement of your own imagination. Through the painting, Close has accessed the perceptual center of your mind, exploiting the way we process human identity: the gaps of knowledge and the unknown spaces we fill with our own presumptions, the expectations and delusions we layer upon everyone we meet.

By painting these portraits, Close is tapping into something bigger. He’s not just showing us who he is — he’s helping us understand who we are and why how we perceive and presume matters.

Hilton writes:

It seems to me now, with greater reflection, that the value of experiencing another person’s art is not merely the work itself, but the opportunity it presents to connect with the interior impulse of another. The arts occupy a vanishing space in modern life: They offer one of the last lingering places to seek out empathy for its own sake, and to the extent that an artist’s work is frustrating or difficult or awful, you could say this allows greater opportunity to try to meet it. I am not saying there is no room for discriminating taste and judgment, just that there is also, I think, this other portal through which to experience creative work and to access a different kind of beauty, which might be called communion.

“Empathy for its own sake” and “a different kind of beauty, which might be called communion” are what I’m after too — exactly what I want to create.

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Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

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Artists are known to suffer from occasional depression and regular mood swings. But creative types are not the only ones who may from time to time dip into fits of melancholy or instances of doldrums.

I usually like to dive into my emotions, dissect them, figure out the root cause and act accordingly. Depression may stem from a living arrangement that no longer suffices, the lack of strong friendships, missing someone — just as an episode of anxiety may reflect a need to exercise, eat, sleep or do something you love/have to do.

Sometimes, however, there’s a deeper blue. Sometimes, it all feels too overwhelming to analyze. Perhaps it stems from things that have happened to you. I admit to being the type who is more consumed by the past than I should be — and despite efforts to not act the victim, I often find it a hard habit to break. It simply hurts to have a broken heart, to have misplaced trust or to have someone cause harm to you in whatever way — and these are things we adults must face as we venture out into the world.

Meghan Austin wrote a story for the New York Time’s Style section on Modern Love, saying “I don’t regret any of it. Love often doesn’t arrive at the right time or in the right person. It makes us do ridiculous and stupid things. But without it, life is just a series of unremarkable events, one after the other.”

Even those things that haunt us — past mistakes and past pain — are markers on our journeys. They give us guideposts. They give us turning points. They give us identity as well.

We venture out even though we may feel scared. We open up even though we are scarred. Sometimes taking a risk is not a poor gamble but just a sign of a life being lived. I think it’s important to be a little wild, to try regardless. And perhaps learning to live with a bit of pain is a part of the process.

On My Last Couple of Days at Art Farm Nebraska

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I wake up with a deep anxiety about leaving the farm and facing the real world — and this makes me realize strongly how much my life has changed lately.

My routine is drastically different. The first step of the day is drenching myself in deet to face not only the mosquitos that swarm outside the door but also those residing in the house — and to stop the ones who have been biting me in my sleep and followed me downstairs for further feasting on my flesh. I put away dishes my roommates have left drying; I wash a few left in the sink. I make coffee in the cracked yellow mug with a little blue bird on it that says “Alouette” — because it’s my favorite shaped mug in the house and because it’s the one Ben brought to me full of fresh coffee in my studio before he left. I boil a little extra water for Z before she stumbles downstairs. I find myself sentimental about the smallest things. The girls who I live with are the same way — we cry together over little things and we laugh so easily that the house shakes.

In my day-to-day existence, I have gotten adept at isolation. I’m a master at loneliness. I am used to taking myself out to solitary whiskeys and dinners alone and pretending that I don’t mind and that somehow getting used to being alone will make it easier to deal with the world. This is not the way I used to be, or the way obviously that I am in my heart, but it’s the way that I have become over the past few years. I add it to the list of things that I would like to change about myself. I don’t want to be afraid that people will hurt me anymore. People will hurt me. I accept that.

I keep thinking — what do I do when I leave this place? How do I stay in this cloud of art that I have created for myself on the farm? How do I keep art as my top priority? How do I stay present?

Aimee texted me, “You leave this place a different person.” I sure hope so.