The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, September 24, 2007

From the Pit

By Tamara Lee

Last night, sitting out in my friend’s backyard, I watched the flames from the fire pit leap into the early fall air. While we discussed our respective creative arts—she’s a painter—I heard her insist with a hint of frustration, “I’m not really creating anymore, but I am painting a little still.”

Her money-making career involves helping others achieve their creative goals. Meanwhile her creativity, for various reasons, remains compromised. This disconnect, art versus life, pitted against one another like the fiery battle for Granada, is an age-old one for artists.

I recalled José Orozco, who to his inner depths recognized his own talents, barely restrained by his crippled hands, exploring the agony and dispossession of humanity. And yet his whole career he struggled for one thing: Recognition. Even when he attained it—from the Delphic Circle, to influencing some of the Americas best modern artists, to having his then-controversial visions defended by Institutions—he was not satisfied. He fell in love with a woman, his unrequited love for the tiny, fickle ballet dancer igniting his final angst. Many critics insist this is what kept him from his final peace. But perhaps it was simply his dependency on creating this inner turmoil in order to continue painting the ceaseless tensions of humanity, each relying on the other. It seems that those ceaseless tensions between heaven and hell were his deepest motivation. He might never have found peace. It was not in him.

Of course, the tortured artist thing isn’t just age-old, it’s old; struggling to find the balance between work and creativity—the balance—the endlessly tippering of scales. There isn’t balance, there cannot be. Life isn’t static, if it were, why would artists bother?

When we find ourselves "not really creating anymore," though perhaps still producing "a little," are we being hard on ourselves, or honest? Sometimes, this weekly blog post is the only thing I squeeze out. At least, onto paper. What goes on in my head, the stories and melodramas frittering in there, might pass as creating, if only I would get them down on paper. Some argue that if it ain’t down on paper, if it ain’t published, it doesn’t count. Journalling is ‘scribbling;’ blogging is ‘procrastination;’ daydreaming is daydreaming.

And then, once publishing, a writer’s few publications are often as good as invisible until some kind of quota has been fulfilled and official Recognition finally ignites the publications’ worthiness or the writer’s status as a Writer, self-identification as a writer be damned.

About Orozco, Jacquelynn Baas summarizes: "A key to understanding [his] work is an awareness of the relation between the artist's passionate idealism and his pessimism." And so the on-going struggle for artists to maintain idealism and faith, especially in times of limited output, against the assails of naysayers and well-meaning pessimists. In Orozco's words, "Painting assails the mind. It persuades the heart."

Making me wonder how writers pursuade their own hearts.

(Image credit: Manos, by José Clemente Orozco, 1926, lithograph; collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art)


Blogger MelBell said...

Wow. His paintings are fantastic.

I haven't been persuading my own writer's heart too much lately. I think it's because it wants me to get off my butt and go see and do more, and then return and write. So I've been doing that, and feel wonderful. It's easy to feel guilty about not producing, though. Even on these beautiful sunny fall days. Maybe that's it. It's been some time since Toronto has experienced a day that's been gloomy.

Mon Sep 24, 09:49:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Hey, you know those effortless stories that seem the easiest to write, that seem to write themselves? Those are the worst kind for the true artist/writer, exactly because they require such little effort. Okay, I'm speaking for me and Zorba, here, but there's some truth to this. The trick, I suppose, is to find the satisfaction in the crafting, and realize that the occasional bloodiness, sweatiness and tears are gifts to be accepted with grace and humility. I'm not worthy, type of thing. To be constantly on the look-out for these blessings is sheer torture. Sure.

Tue Sep 25, 10:52:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I'm finding myself full of music these days, and for the past few months I hadn't been for the first time in my life. It went away. Then it came back. It's all so fickle.

Tue Sep 25, 11:11:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Hey, guys, thanks for reading.

Process and perseverance is interesting to talk about when one's not 'doing' much. I find it helps. Thanks for your responses. I agree that external input, exploring other genres, is imperative to developing writings. The bloody (mindedness) of crafting is definitely a sort of perverse reward.

Tue Sep 25, 02:23:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Lots to think about here, Tamara. Thanks. I am hard on myself when I'm not producing -- a lifetime of conditioning, I think. It's not good enough to just think or just be. One thing for sure, though, I cannot produce when I'm tortured. I need harmony and security.

Thu Sep 27, 12:50:00 am GMT-4  

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