Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dreaded Questions and Keys to our Future

My cousin-in-law came over the other night and asked me the dreaded question. The one that I absolutely hate to hear, “So, Em, when are you ever going to finish that painting?” I shrugged and said something noncommittal, but inside I was asking myself the same question. When am I going to finish that painting?

I have two styles of painting. One is the rushed exhilarating type that comes over me with the force of an Oklahoma thunderstorm. These paintings seem to demand that I capture them quickly and with force. My brush strokes are strong and sure. I don’t even have to know where they are going. My job is to simply follow the nebulous of an idea until it reveals its totality on the canvas. These are the ones that I step away from wondering that I had that inside of me.

The second is far more demanding of me. It is one that emerges from my psyche fully formed, requiring that I render it in strict accordance to the image presented. It does not change, from start to finish, it is constant, reshaping and forming me into the proper tool for its creation. It calls upon all my skill and mastery of technique to capture it. There is often a lot of scraping of paint, removing those parts that offend the image, reshaping my mistakes and starting over again.

I hate these paintings. They are like spoiled children whining to have things their way, and nothing less will suffice. The worst part is I know that the idea, that spark of inspiration that called them into being deserves the very best I can give it, but they are nothing more than a mirror, exposing my flaws, my weaknesses both as an artist and a person. They reveal too much. The painting and I know it.

Often these are the paintings that adorn my walls in various stages of completion. I stare at them, sometimes for years, probing them, hoping to find a fatal flaw that will keep me from having to complete it. Knowing I lack the talent and the skill to do justice the image that was presented in my mind.

The painting in question is one that I have worked on for at least three years. I say worked on, but any of the visitors to my home could challenge that. I have alternately stared at it and ignored it the past three years, wondering if and dreading when I would pull out my paints and begin again. There is a story in the painting, one that I later found myself telling in a novel but that is a different tale entirely, and it is one that is finished.

I think when I began the painting, I was still asking the question of how the story would play out. In many ways the painting is the question, and now I know the answer. And it wasn’t nearly as important as I once thought. Over the past few months I have struggled with if I should even try to finish it, or if I should just paint over it, fill the canvas with a new image, a happier image, or one that is more beautiful. In some ways it seems almost like a betrayal to revisit it now that I am living in this new life.

But every time I go near the painting, I see the time and the care I put into it. The details that were painstakingly wrought, details another will probably never see, and I think it is some of my finest work. It deserves to be finished. It deserves to be completed, and then perhaps sold to hang on another’s wall. Maybe they are asking the question, maybe they are holding out the keys to someone they love, hoping that they will reach out and take them from their hand. Maybe their answer will be different and it will be a happy ending for those people in the painting.

Or perhaps, I need to find away to give life to the truth. He never reached out to take the keys. He never deigned to lower his eyes to see they had been extended to him. And it was a good thing. Yes, the refusal hurt in that time and place, but once I learned to free myself, to look about me there was someone who didn’t need my keys. He didn’t need my answers, he just needed me.

Maybe this is the day when the painting will stop dictating its form, and will conform to my desire, when I stop being the tool for its expression and it becomes the means of mine. It’s a scary step to say that I am the one who gets to make the choice that I will determine its final form. No longer will I be able to shrug off a compliment or a critique, I will have to accept responsibility for what is before me with full knowledge that I was the one who made the decision. I will have to make myself vulnerable to every eye perceptive enough to see the truth, and this is something I have avoided for a very long time.

We all create our lives from our choices. We all sculpt and hollow out our bit of reality with every decision we make. We can claim to be victims of circumstance, and sometimes we truly are, but what we do with those circumstances is what determines how our world looks. And sometimes we have to stop hiding from ourselves long enough to create the change we so desperately need to move forward. I don’t look forward to changing the painting, covering over my mistakes is going to be hard to hide, but if I am ever going to completely step out of the shadow of that story it is time to make a new decision.


Dirty Butter said...

I love looking into the depth of thought that artists put into their work. Your ability to express yourself is quite extraordinary. I would love to see this "work in progress" that you talk about here.

I follow you on ExposeYourBlog

PS. Your comment box is still breaking frames. If you change to POP UP on the Comment settings on Blogger it should fix it.

Emily said...

Thanks for the feedback. I was planning on putting in a picture but we had a death in the family and time got away from me. I will talk to my "techies" about getting the comments fixed.

cajcocacola86 said...

Good Lord Em way to make a person cry. I'm sure whatever comes of this transformation will be beautiful and extraordinary. Come on fearless one show us what you've got.

Calen Jonathan Cobb said...

Well I was wondering when you were gonna finish it too but not only do I think it is beautiful but I now understand it's lack of full fruition thanks for the explanation

THE Mary Estelle Leavell said...

I love this post! And the picture of the painting too!

Emily said...

Mary, you love it because you completely get it. ;)