Saturday, November 27, 2010


We are taught from a very early age that structure and order are good. They provide stability and security, unpredictability is bad and leads to fear. Chaos is to be eradicated and peace restored within our lives.

I have been thinking about this concept a lot. Especially since I read Robert Grudin's statement that to walk in creativity is to walk at the edge of chaos. I think in images, each word has its own special picture in my head and when I link them together as they appear on a page, and as the individual words
conjure up their image and combine with each other a new image is made.

Sometime long ago I read that the original Hebrew of Genesis reads, "And the earth became chaos. . ." That became my picture of chaos, a cosmic pool of random color with no solid form, no definition just simply being. Random and beautiful, waiting for something, anything to give it purpose and meaning, and then God spoke and history began.

I do not pretend that this image of chaos is correct scientifically or even theologically, but that is my picture and I like it, so I will keep it. The thing is when I read Grudin's quote I added something to my image. Now instead of a cold distant cosmic mass, God walked at its edges.

Suddenly, the randomness had purpose. It was not simply something lost to the darkness of space, hope was present and life was near. Chaos became not something to fear or cause for despair. Chaos was the substance of possibility.

I thought about what this meant for an artist. All my paints laid out in neat little tubes, carefully arranged so that I can reach out and grab the one I want. My brushes standing at attention with clean bristles and handles not yet smudged by dirty fingers. A canvas pure white and waiting. It all starts out so orderly and almost pretty, and then I begin my work.

I pick up one of my pretty tubes and I smash it squirting pure color onto my once pristine palette. Pretty little pools of paint arranged in the order of the spectrum, separated by enough space so they cannot touch. I then take my palette knife and smear them into long lines of color that still retain the division I have imposed. I chose a brush, and begin to paint.

I select the proper color and then I do the unthinkable. I introduce chaos to the process. I pick up brown with the edge of my brush before I set it into the blue, or a touch of alizeran crimson goes into the cadmium yellow, no longer are my colors pure, they must not be to produce the desired effect.

I make a line or a cloud of color on the canvas, sometimes I paint the canvas black to make the colors more vivid. I have to destroy the clean orderliness of the blank canvas in order to introduce the elements that will allow my image to take shape. The entire process of creation is the introduction and the subduing of chaos.

We have been taught to fear chaos, like it is threat to our well order lives and will possibly destroy us. But chaos is an essential ingredient to creation, and it does not end with painting. My brother assembles chaotic notes and words into an order to create a song and expression of his thoughts. The writer picks from among the many words to create a poem or story, all come from the mass of ideas and images that float chaotically through our psyche. As the artists, we pluck them from the realm of the unknowable and place them in the form that allows the others to see the beauty of the random elements.

An artist introduces hope and possibility to a situation that the others see as overwhelming and impenetrable. Our work signifies the ability to find beauty and truth in an otherwise confusing realm.

There is a reason that people of all cultures have embraced the arts. Whether articulated or simply accepted, the work of the artist helps us make sense of our world. To put words to this idea will strike some as arrogant or baffling, their response will be, "I just like it." This is not uncommon most of us do not think about why we like what we like, we just accept that we do, but think for a moment. Remember that time when an emotion overwhelmed you and that song came on the radio that captured all the things you could not voice before.

In that moment, the chaos of feeling became solidified, clarified, and you could put words to what had escaped you before. It is more difficult with an image because they do not give us the words, but the images we are drawn to reflect some aspect of our hearts that calm us. We recognize that we can give form to some hidden part of us, hidden because we did not have a way to share it before someone captured it for us.


Anonymous said...

Love your image of chaos. Definitely makes sense to me as an artist.

Emily said...

I think we artists feed off each other- in a good way. We find our missing words in each other and make them our own.