“If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.”
I should be better at tolerating uncertainty. It is something I practice each time I begin a new painting, and throughout the whole painting process. During this frightening time, I have to say that my ability to tolerate uncertainty is being sorely tested.
There is uncertainty about how long and how far the virus will spread, about what damage the economy will sustain and about what life will look like after it is all over. We tend to forget the daily uncertainties. Life can be random and surprising. No one expects to be stricken with job loss, disease, or heartbreak, though these things happen all the time. What is different about this period is that the likelihood of one of these scenarios is increased for almost everyone.
The world is experiencing a pandemic on a scale we’ve never seen before. Similarly, each painting I make, I’ve never seen before. Each work has its own motivations, form, progression through problems and resolution.
Artists are often asked whether we visualize how a painting will look upon completion. I do not. I begin with an idea or emotion and often a set of parameters. Those parameters might be a color palette or an emphasis on shape or line. The way the elements of idea and form coalesce is the unknown and the adventure of painting.
One thing that helps me hang on during the painting process, as well as during this moment in history, is trying to remain positive, or at least realistic. Conversely, when I focus on negative emotions and problems I can easily become overwhelmed. If I focus on the parts of the painting that I like, I can try to repeat or emphasize them.
Taking action also provides a feeling that we are doing something to help others. I’ve been cleaning our home and sharing information via social media and telephone. I’ve also decided to volunteer to deliver meals via Meals on Wheels People. All these things function twofold: they help me feel more in control in a tenuous situation, and they help others by, hopefully, helping to contain the spread of this pandemic.
Art and Literature are also a vital remedy to the saggy spirit that we all must feel. Making and viewing art is one of my favorite activities. I’ve loved seeing the outpouring of visual art that friends and strangers are sharing online. Some of it makes me think, some of it makes me feel and some art makes me appreciate the rich and precious beauty that surrounds us. I also fall back to books I’ve read that became like old friends.
One such book that I was reminded of this morning is To the Wedding by John Berger. You can read a review of the book here: https://gerryco23.wordpress.com/2017/02/04/rereading-john-berger-to-the-wedding/. I highly recommend this beautiful tragedy, as much for its poignant writing as for its message. One particular passage that has stuck with me since I read the book in 1996 talked about how our daily perception is that we are safe. That we live in an age of medical miracles, but when something unknown (such as AIDS in the book or COVID-19 now) we realize that we are all just clinging to life, like puffins on a cliff.
How do I know when I read To the Wedding? Our book group has been reading together since 1993. I have a list of every book we’ve read since, and most of the average scores. If you’d like to get some ideas for what to read next, you can download the list here. We choose our books by committee. Most are recent fiction (or were when we chose them!) Then at our meetings, we rate the books on a scale of 1 – 10, one being worse than Popular Mechanics and 10 being your top score. The scores you see on the chart are an average of all voting members. Let me know if you see books you’ve also enjoyed, or find a new one to read.
All this rambling is to say: Art is Important. Perhaps now, more than ever.
Even though I have had to cancel workshops and the economy will make painting sales less probable, I know that I will be able to adapt. I am so fortunate to be able to work through this period. I have been taking time to develop new skills and experiment. That time is often in short supply with a busy teaching and exhibition schedule. I have also cut back on entering shows, which can be a big financial drain.
What are you doing to boost your morale, and that of others, during this sweeping change in our daily lives?