Who am I? What do I stand for? What are my beliefs? WHY do I make art? What do I want to leave in the world, how would I want my work impact the world? *Ego-Inflation red flag? Naivety red flag?* What is my purpose?
The artist statement seems to want me to know answers to all those questions and write it in a compact concise two paragraph text. All it does though is bring me into an existential cramp, trying to figure out the response to age old philosophical, spiritual, religious questions.
I’m very aligned with a Buddhist take on that. Usually “I am” a little self, made up of wants, fears, successes and failures. That’s sort of limiting and scanty, almost a logical precursor of the commodification of my work.
When asked this question about who we are, a teacher responded by holding up a really large sheet of white paper and he drew a small V-shape on it. Then he asked the students what it was a picture of and most responded that it was a flying bird. “No,” he said, “it’s a picture of the sky with a bird flying through it.” He showed that what you pay attention to about yourself, about life, determines your experience. Focusing on the bird is like paying attention to what’s most obvious in the foreground of your mind, thoughts, sensations, feelings. Shifting to seeing the sky is like opening to the context that’s holding those experiences, the ocean of awareness, an alert openness from which you perceive all that is happening.
It seems to me to paint is holding that question “who am I?”, holding the space in which the answer to that question ‘floats’ through me, it’s taking the step back and let the work reveal answers I am this now, I am that, now I am this etc. It is an ongoing process. The answer is not a stable thing. I live and paint ‘inside’ of a question, how we live our daily lives every single day, a question that doesn’t have any single resolution, a question I am in active dialogue with in my life and in my relationships to other people. And so, I’ll probably die painting.
What is my belief about life? What makes a life, what makes a life worthwhile? And who decides that? Life should not be a pool of misery, we work to pay our taxes and then die. I see it more as a quest for joy and artistry (at life). I also believe that the space where my self is formed is where the hope lies. I think my art is about hope, and wonderment and joy, curiosity also, about life, my own and that of others, about our vulnerabilities, the innocence, the courage, about how we find/create meaning. Everybody/Every Body counts and Every Day matters/Everyday matters. Puns all intended.
I’m feeling connected in my painting. I paint what I feel, the story I tell myself about what happened, what I’ve seen, what I’ve experienced. As I paint, I figure out what (my idea of) the world is about underneath the chaos, the noise. I figure out what I’m about, what my art is about, what I value-A Still Life-which is infinitely more interesting than one would think if you look more closely. I am working now on a series of still life's, I titled ‘A Still Life.’ To me, attention to nature, to small things, mundane things can bring me great joy. In portraying trees or these humble objects, everyday matters that will remain after I’m gone, that are imbued with memories of belonging, I feel great joy and authentic, simple, pure happiness I suppose, vs the small self above, the ego self that may be driven by struggle and suffering.
What is my purpose? Is that a Western question? I’m inclined not to look for purpose externally, something I have to find. Like for instance to protest violence, to make political art, to address injustice. I have done bodies of work on women’s issues, I still feel quite powerless over injustices that occur. Not so much explicit activism anymore, now I’m older. But rather as intrinsic to who I am as a person. I believe those interests will show through even if I don’t address them explicitly. Picasso-Guernica-said it well: “An artist is constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, delightful things that happen in the world.”
I believe in “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” as in Dylan Thomas’ poem. I am no different than nature, rather I am a part of nature. A view so under stress by patriarchal capitalism, we are separate from/have to control nature etc. I am more like the bee that transfers pollen from one flower to another and keeps our environment going, and doesn’t just collect its own resources for living its bee-life. By its nature, it’s naturally serving a massive ecological purpose, probably totally unaware of that, but who knows. Nature works in cycles that way, in flow, it’s gift economy principles, not capitalist market principles. Artists make work and people receive it as we share it with the world, whether the viewers buy a work or not. Brandi Stanley makes a great conclusion from that: if I tap into what makes me feel alive-painting-then by nature, even if I’m not aware of the collective implication of what I’m doing, and may not see it in my lifetime, I may serve a deep purpose in community through my work.
To finish, let me quote David Bowie, he formulates it so much better: “The reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt that if you could manifest it in some way, that you could understand more about yourself and how you co-exist with the rest of society.” There it is, an artist statement. One paragraph.
*Here’s Dylan Thomas’ poem:
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.
The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.
The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman's lime.
The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.
And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.