Wednesday, April 30, 2008

there and back

Decorative art. Illustrative art. Non-challenging art. I took some time away to paint a new picture but trying really hard to make something perfect is when we're most likely to fail. I don't really hate the paintings I end up being responsible for but the only way to express my feeling about them is by trying to imagine attempting to write a book I'd really enjoy reading and knowing I'm incapable of doing so. For example here's a brief list of favorite books:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Magus by John Fowles

It's a short list of classic fiction but I read all sorts of things and I set the bar pretty high for what's acceptable. Yet if I sat down to write a novel I know I'd come up with something utterly dismal. I shudder at the thought of writing a romance novel.

I'm sure there are lots of people sharing this frustrating condition with me. I love listening to music but I can't play and I know there are lots of musicians who wish they could play as well as.. somebody else. Everyone stretches for something always out of reach and that's what makes humanity beautiful. While engrossed in some pursuit beyond our daily lives we at least get to savor the magic of the creative spirit and, if we're lucky, every so often there may be a hint of transcendance in the air.

So here's the painting called 'Dakini Spring'. It's really much more complicated than it looks - as are we all.


Anonymous said...

susan - what a fascinating piece this is! You left me a comment about wonderful surprises, this blows me away. I love the moon imagery on the periphery (phases of the moon?), and what appears to be a stream or river of water defying the gravity (water finding its level?).

Great choices on the books, but don't beat yourself up on the writing. You're a fine story teller and from the posts I've read, have quite a character developing in Crow. Chin up sister. You can only live up to the limits of that which you are capable. The beauty of life is trying to figure out what that limit is. Peace!

gfid said...

welcome back! i think creative folk develop a special love for facets of their art and other artforms that are outside of themselves. and we're never satisfied with our best, because we foolishly compare it to things unlike it... like comparing apples and oranges. the great cellist Pablo Casals, when asked why he practiced so much (many hours every day) replied, "well.... i think i've noticed some improvement" he's the only one who thought there was room for improvement. i have a friend who's a magnificent artist, who doesn't think he's done an original thing in his life, because 'there is nothing new under the sun.'

you're a wonderful artist, su... and a wonderful writer. you just aren't somebody else; you're you. and that's the best thing about you.

Randal Graves said...

I absolutely love that painting. And please, don't sell yourself short on the storytelling. As great as a quality novel is, it isn't the be-all, end-all of creativity. As long as we're creative and embrace that part of ourselves which is, sadly, neglected far too often in our bizarre world.

On the flip side, I completely sympathize with the inevitable frustration. I guess that's why we keep going, we know we'll never attain our goals. Oh, how I wish I could play like Eddie Van Halen and Itzhak Perlman.

Zee said...

You did it again being creative whilst I fail lately in such avenues. It makes me happy for you though. I like your painting style. There is something about the color balance, composition, blend of approaches in style that make your paintings unique ... yours solely. And they are fabulously to look at, that is a good thing as well.
I have to get off this bandwagon of depression and follow your lead.
Cynicism is a form of saying: I surrender myself, with no hope of change, to my surroundings. This a bit of my mood these days; not very creative.
You keep that brush in your hand lady, and between your toes. Then I know you will be alright.

susan said...

spartacus - They never turn out quite the way I hoped but it was fun and I'm glad you liked it.

btw - I did get 7 chapters of a novel written once in spite of having no plan and only the vaguest idea about characters. Every time I wrote I got surprised about what was going on in the story.

gfiid - Welcome back yourself and I'd love to hear you play sometime. I know expecting more than we can possibly accomplish is part of the human condition. I love to paint as you love to play but sometimes it's aggravating not having the time to let it all come together naturally.

rg - It's good to be faced with the same problems as the greats, non? I love your poems and the fact you share poetry you love. I like the idea of a hard rocking Itzhak.. I'll think of you that way from now on.

zee - A compliment of my paintings from you is high praise indeed and something I'll cherish. I wish I could send you some inspiration wrapped up in clouds of positivity. Then again, I have a difficult enough time with my own moods - seems to be part of the package, doesn't it?

Zee said...

see you next morning Susan.
Moods will come and go, the nature of the beast. May next morning be bright and fruitful, to both of us...

Ben said...

Not only do I like this painting, but just a momemt after looking at it, I had to enlarge it again to make sure I had actually seen what I saw. Take that for what it's worth. The flowers are just amazing.

But I can definitely relate to the problem. It's hard to come up with something that doesn't feel like a pale imitation of something else.

Seraphine said...

I don't know about the pursuit of perfection. Did James Joyce try to be perfect when he wrote Ulysses, or did it just turn out that way, perfect for its imperfections?
It can be argued beauty is the imperfection of perfection, the mole under the eye, the crooked mouth, the counter to the point.
You started my head buzzing, Susan.
I've read most of those books at one time or another. Rushdie bored me. Maybe I wasn't having a perfect day when I opened his pages.
I love your art. I am amazed by it, jealous, pleased, amused, impressed. For me it is perfection, and it matters not if that was your intention in creating it.

lindsaylobe said...

Your musings to me seem to echo what my wife often says; how frustrating it is to be given the gift to appreciate and discern the very finest which makes us such stern critics of ourselves. But maybe we need not compare since we all have our own brand of uniquenes. So what I say is to count your blessings for that great talent you have and resist the frustration of not being able to grasp your stars.
Thanks for showing us your painting and its lovely depiction of what to me is the sacred nature of a new spring encapsulated within the boundless energy of mother earth. I am quite sure you could write an enjoyable book about it and a new adventure for the pleasure of family and friends if that is what you really wanted to do.

Best wishes

CDP said...

It's beautiful. And you're a fine writer. Flannery O'Connor is one of my favorite authors, and she wrote in a letter that even the best writers are usually limited in what they can do...just because you can write doesn't mean you can write ANYTHING. I think the same applies to most talents, with the exception of those who have genius. Great post.

susan said...

ben - 'A pale imitation of something else' about sums it up. I'm having the most fun with the story drawings because I'm not trying to invest them with major expectations. They're quickly (for me) done. Now I'm wondering what you saw.

sera - I'm sure you're right about James Joyce since he didn't give a damn about what anybody else thought about anything. It's hilarious to imagine him blogging, isn't it?

So far as Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses' is concerned, I'd spent several years intensely involved with a couple of Sufi groups on the east coast and had recently read 2 biographies of Muhammed. I'd been primed.

I'm glad you like my artwork - envy is a two way street.

lindsay - Your wife sounds like a very wise woman. I'd just been musing about how strange it can be that everything we do is like a signature of our nature. Thanks for your kind words. You got the essence of what I'd been trying to portray and that makes me happy.

cdp - Among the next dozen authors I'd thought of mentioning, Flannery O'Connor's name would have been prominent. I'm constantly amazed by the gifts we have and just how few people even attempt to exercise their innate creativity.

Ben said...

Oh, I didn't see anything that wasn't there. Unless I'm still seeing it, in which case I finally went ahead and had the psychotic break. It's more the cumulative effect made me have to take a second look.

Mary said...

It's beautiful. You are so very talented. When I find myself frustrated at my lack of being able to write something as mesmerizing as what I read or play some wonderful piece of music I try to focus on what I am which is a great appreciator of all art forms. The world needs appreciators.

Ingrid said...

Susan..I can't 'see' it but maybe later if I get on the site again it will pop up.
Love your choices of books. I was 21 when I read "The Idiot" by Dostoyevsky. I wanted to be a writer and after I read that, being a non native English speaker/writer, I thought, think how impressive that book was and it was a translation to boot! Can you imagine how powerful it would have been in Russian?
Anna Karenina.. I read that when I was 14. 'Forced' by my oldest sister who was in her 30s. I was visiting her in Canada (grew up in Holland) and since it was a long holiday, she felt I 'had to' read that book. She thought it was so sad and romantic. Try sad and depressing! But of course, it's a 'wee' heavy for a 14yr old!
Madame Bovary..haha. That book and Bel Ami (forgot the author right now) were two books we had at home, in Dutch. So for my french class, where we had oral exams and had to read the books in french (ehem) I put it on my reading list and my very gullible (but nice) french teacher never thought it was a bit too difficult for a it in Dutch, and got grilled on it in French..hehe. I see some other familiar titles but have not read them. You have good taste Susan! I remember vaguely reading Wuthering Heights (yes, in English) but I moreso remember Kate Bush's song ("it's me, Cathy I've come home..tataaa..")
I'll have to put some of these on my summer reading list..btw..I had to check the list so when I opened another window for your site, I saw the beautiful painting.. God woman...what are you complaining about???
It's a flight of fancy that could inspire one to write a story least, that's what it did to me. I'll let you know what I got and email it to you.
I wish I had your talent! lucky you!!



Seraphine said...

Isn't the internet the biggest stream of consciousness ever devised? We're drowning in it and it doesn't even rhyme!

susan said...

ben - Every so often the blinders slip and I kind of enjoy the effect too.

mary - You're right and I'm a card carrying member of the great appreciators club.

ingrid - If you email me a story to go with the picture I promise I'll post it. That would be very nice indeed.. but don't feel obliged. There are so many things I'd love to do if I only had the time but it's a commodity in short supply nowadays.
The list is filled with classics and since I'm pretty old I read most of them many years ago too. I enjoyed your reminiscences of the circumstances when you read some of them too.. and in newly learned English, Dutch and French as well. I'm impressed.

sera - Swimming against the stream of consciousness and getting caught up in the rapids every so often. Wheee!

Scarlet W. Blue said...

I love the painting. You have such talent, but I think in your case, the talent is a manifestation of an incredibly beautiful spirit.

I liked the first half of Anna Karenina, but got bogged down in the second half.

Oryx and Crake and Wuthering Heights are two of my all-time favorite books. I love both of those.

Is it anti-American to dislike Twain's novels? Anti-Missourian?

My favorite Shakespeare is Richard III.

Good post.

susan said...

scarlet - you always make me :-)

Considering I grew up in Canada and the only black people I knew as a kid were the children of a professor, reading Mark Twain was a revelation about a truly foreign culture whose strange similarity with my own was that it used the same language.

Anita said...

such a lovely painting! i wish i had i had that kind of talent. sadly, though, i'm probably the only person on the planet who failed art class. oh, and gym as well, but that's a whole 'nuther story!!

madame bovary is very, very high on my list of literary favs. sister carrie by theodore dreiser is another.

thanks for the great post.

b said...

This is such a great painting and as Randal mentioned in his post today, you are a talented artist! This is also a great list of literature.

What you say in this post absolutely resonates. As a writer, I read classical works and long to write something that those writers might embrace, even if the masses rejected it. I cannot bear the thought of writing chick lit or anything contemporary and "entertaining." I suppose that many of us tortured artists feel that way. It is a frustrating condition.

I also think about music or painting in a similar way. I have absolutely no idea about reading or writing music, and the thought of starting a painting is more than daunting. It isn't in me whatsoever. And yet, I think that as creative souls, we can extend ourselves beyond our particular creative sphere and be so utterly inspired and transcended by other art forms. And it really does make humanity more beautiful, as you suggest.

susan said...

anita - I went to art classes for years and saw many people fail including me some of the time. I have to draw and paint whether the 'art world' likes it or not.

Madame Bovary should have been on my list but I forgot and I've added Sister Carrie on your recommendation. Glad you came by.

b - That Randal! I'll have to look at what he said but I'm glad you came over. It can be very frustrating to wish you could accomplish above your natural level but all we can do is try. Most days I feel just so damn grateful to be alive and healthy I have to dance.. and sometimes I do that best with a pencil, pen or a paintbrush.

I'm going to add both of you to my blogroll so I can remember to come by for my own visit.