Monday, April 22, 2013

Black Barns and Solitary Confinement

This past weekend, I luckily found and received permission to visit some barns that have been neglected for at least a generation.  One is as imposing as a beached ship, another sprawls into a large "T" shape, while a third barely stands and looks like a Franz Kline painting.  When I first arrived I disturbed some buzzards, and only later did I find their point of interest, a dead coyote.  The above is a 9x12 pastel and charcoal drawing.

Here are a few quotes from Christian Wiman who writes a lot about the relationship of experience and one's art.

"Our own experiences matter only insofar as they reveal something of experience itself.  They are often the clearest lens that we can find, but they are a lens."

"To inspire, meaning both to take in breath and to take in spirit, to be awakened by and to the creative force of one's own mind, by and to all that lies beyond."

"Most artists make art precisely because they feel some sort of absence or incoherence in their lives.  It seems not simply inevitable but necessary that the art they produce in some way seek to contain or heal whatever is missing or wounded or wrongful in them."

Wiman writes the following to demonstrate more deeply the difficulty and possibility of communicating one's yearnings through art:  "There is a passage in the writings of Simone Weil that has long been important to me.  In the passage Weil describes two prisoners who are in solitary confinement next to each other.  Between them is a stone wall.  Over a period of time--and I think we have to imagine it as a very long time--they find a way to communicate using taps and scratches.  The wall is what separates them, but it is also the only means they have of communicating.  'It is the same with us and God,' she says.  'Every separation is a link.'

... If you never quite feel at home in your life, if being conscious means primarily being conscious of your own separation from the world and divinity (and perhaps any sentient person after Modernism has to feel these things), then an idea or image that can translate that depletion into energy, those absences into presences, is going to be powerful.  And then there are those taps and scratches: what are they but language, and if language is the way we communicate with the divine, well, what kind of language is more refined and transcendent than poetry?  You could almost embrace this vision of life--if, that is, there were any actual life to embrace: Weil's image for the human condition is a person in solitary confinement.  There is real hope in the image, but still, in human terms, it is a bare and lonely hope."

Wiman focuses on poetry and language, but the same confinement metaphor applies to painting.  I tap and scratch away on paper and canvas for the same reasons he writes poetry.

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