Hunger and Apathy

Did Lucian Freud face these struggles? And if he did, what kept him painting day in, day out? eta: More importantly, why is the girl strangling that poor cat?

“Nowadays, I seek to appreciate more than I hunger to achieve.”

These are the words of Jonas, in his response to my loaded question on why he no longer paints anymore. Part of the following text is taken from the latest message I wrote him, as I’ve been mulling over this whole business for the past couple of days now. No. That’s a lie. I’ve been mulling over it for the better part of my life actually.

The most un-self-conscious piece of self-expression I ever created was as a baby, when according to my mother, I made a painting on the wall with my own faeces. There is no surviving record of that masterpiece that I know of. Some works using fecal matter have made their way into museums; I remember seeing something like that at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and yes, I was disturbed, but mostly by the fact that toddler tactics like that still have the power to shock enough to get major institutions to pay out big money to exhibit such… well, utter crap. Ever since I developed a rational mind, I’ve never felt the need to make art that came quite that literally from guts.  In fact, it’s been a struggle to express myself at all in any meaningful artistic way.

As I said to Jonas, I don’t know if it’s a reflection of my relative youth, or immaturity, or a drive that’ll always be a part me, but that hunger to achieve still burns within me, even as I’m trapped under the burden of chronic depression and feel that all hope and aspirations have been sucked out of and replaced by apathy.

I’ve been especially depressed these past couple of days, no doubt due to hormonal shifts which occur with too much regularity to warrant making a special effort to contact my shrink about changes in medication, but this topic has certainly tapped into my current bout of self-pity. Most every day I wonder whether I should or shouldn’t make the effort to do artwork. I should be grateful for all the compliments I receive from various people—teachers, friends, acquaintances, who seem to agree I have talent. But so what? I often use the analogy of someone who is good at playing the piano, and then goes off to study at Julliard and discovers she is only average at best among the truly gifted. I’ve never been assiduous about playing a music instrument so going to Julliard was never an option, but I’ve never been to any equivalent among the world’s leading arts and design institutions either, such as Central Saint Martins in the UK, or Parsons, or School of Visual arts in NYC (though I did attend a couple of workshops at the latter, including one with Milton Glaser, no lightweight by any measure). All this to say I’ll never know where along the continuum of talent I might have landed among my peers had I studied in one such establishment, so I mostly try to convince myself perhaps it’s better not knowing what it might have led to, being surrounded by that much world-wide talent to learn from and exchange with on a daily basis, that chances are I would have been mediocre at best by comparison. But does talent even enter the equation? After all, great artist have their insecurities too. Did Lucian Freud face such struggles? And if he did, what kept him painting day in day out?

Every day I struggle between the desire to make things and the pull of apathy, which tells me all my efforts are for naught, that I should just put down pencil and brushes and let others make their mark, because what is the point really? Is it enough to simply be mediocre if one derives pleasure from something? Yes, of course. But then, is it enough to be mediocre if one is tortured all the while? And is that the soul of an artist seeking expression, or just the victory of depression over yet another wannabe? The only thing I know for sure is we have all been given the capacity to create. The rest… is just the mind playing it’s own games.

Above: Lucian Freud , Girl with Kitten, 1947, oil on canvas 39.5 x 29.5 cm

and the currents are so strong

I have a heavy heavy heart today. Not sure why. It’s been like this for quite some time now, but today, tears welling up and great sadness, tears falling. And fatigue, overwhelming fatigue. I tried pushing it all away by laying down and listening to Die Trying, the latest Jack Reacher novel I’ve got going. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the story and I was hooked into the thriller for hours, but still, still the oppressive sadness wouldn’t leave me.

I need to start a new thread on LT since the current one is getting too long. I like to put an image in the top post to make it more visually interesting. I do tend to be obsessive, just a tad, so been looking for visuals for hours for the last couple of days. I had an idea in mind, then found something I liked and thought I’d do a montage in Photoshop, which is nothing new for me, but somehow… all the insecurity and stress and pressure to produce visual images overtook me and I just felt utterly lost. It should be my favourite thing of all. I’ve been told so often by people who should know about these things that I’m talented, and aren’t we supposed to revel in our talents and derive boundless pleasure from them? How taking on the simplest project, done just for the fun of it can become such a tortuous process is beyond me. Which may explain some of the sadness. Being an art director in the publishing world for successful magazines was a dream of mine when I was a kid, although I wouldn’t have known how to define what my role would be, or that it was called ‘art direction’ or anything like that. I worked really hard, and my dream became a reality, and then the reality of it with the pressure it entailed became so crushing… I tried. I really tried keeping it together. Why did I fall to pieces while others manage to soldier on, and why I can’t seem to put all those pieces together again and move on, and why and for what do I mourn still are questions that plague me. I feel so lost—like a rudderless ship lost at sea, navigating unknown waters, with a blanket of dark thick clouds hiding the stars from view. I guess the new thread can wait.

On my mind today

As much as I’m wanting to do all kinds of things today, I’m equally desirous of spending time with my books. I’m more conscious than ever that I’ll have to cut back some on bookish things starting about a month for now to make room for my art classes, and art in general, which I’ve been woefully neglecting along with everything else. My dad offered to pay for my classes this term, which is very generous of him, so I signed up for a class with my favourite teacher Elisabeth for another round of watercolours (she keeps it fresh and new and exciting all the time, what more can one ask for?). I’ll also be taking a day-long painting class during which everyone works on personal projects, which I thought was probably the smart thing to do since I’ve got maybe a dozen canvases at various stage of completion and could certainly use the feedback to get me moving on them. A regular three-hour class is just too short, and the full day is a little too long to be leaving Coco alone, so I’ll probably show up a bit later in the morning (big surprise, right?). Continue reading

New Beginnings

Starting my art classes this week with a painting class today. I’m excited about it but also a bit apprehensive. It’s been ages since I’ve done anything on canvas—many months at least—and have a bunch of paintings at various stages of progress to show for it! The fact that I’m scared must prove that it’ll be good for me, right? Or anyway, something like that… Off to pack my paints and brushes!

Longing for Weightlesness

I met someone in the form of a handsome man the other day who somehow woke me from the slumber I’ve been in and has made me long for things I thought I’d given up on for good. I should rejoice and celebrate the mere fact that I’ve gotten in touch with that softer side of myself again and maybe even allow myself to feel hopeful that wonderful things are on their way.

But instead, I feel miserable. Although I do my best not to, I can’t help but long for the phone to ring. Not to mention the angst, migraines, more angst and for once when sleep would really come in handy, too anxious to let myself shut down and rest for a while. Most people in my position might be floating on a little cloud, but in my case, I feel like the walls are closing in on me while I’m weighed down by a lead suit that makes me unable to move or think, never mind do something to make myself feel better. This is definitely no way to live.

So I had to ask myself: if I had to choose between the possibility of finding “true love” and achieving that state of complete calm and wellbeing—a feeling I experienced maybe twice in my life for just a few fleeting seconds (and ended as soon as I realized how good it felt)—which would I opt for? I didn’t have to think about this one too long: give me peace of mind. Once I have that, everything becomes a possibility as opposed to a punishing experience.

Booties

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It’s been raining quite a bit the past couple of days. I don’t mind the rain and Coco hardly seems to notice it, so of course this weather has been perfect to break in Coco’s new booties. He was walking funny when I had him try them on at home which gave me a good laugh, but pretty soon he was trotting around like an old pro. I never thought I’d be one of these people who dresses up a small dog (or a dog of any size, come to think of it), but there you have it, the temptation is just too strong to resist!

In other Coco-related news, I got myself a new bicycle last week and outfitted it with a basket so doggie and me can enjoy rides together. It’s so much fun and Coco looks like he’s done it before, though of course I can’t help but worry about the bike getting stolen (bike theft is really bad in Montreal) or that I’ll stumble on a rock and that we’ll both go flying. Guess I’ll have to shop around for a bike helmet for the little one. I wonder if they make them that small?

Pics by Smiler

Why do I bother?

I keep having to remind myself that when I get discouraged, it usually has nothing to do with the state of affairs but is rather a clear marker that I’m over-tired and need to give myself a break and get some rest. It’s also a good idea in those moments to give myself credit where credit is due, so I’ll start by patting myself on the back for going to drawing class today, even if I really, really didn’t want to.

There was an unpleasant incident last week when a student next to me took a phone call in class and then proceeded to whisper into her phone a few feet away from me. This was breaking my concentration—something I need in vast amounts especially when drawing—so I tried to flag her down to ask her to take her call outside the studio. She didn’t see or hear me after a couple of attempts, so I asked more forcefully and was met with grimaces, eye-rolls and nasty stares from both her and her stupid friend. I don’t know what they’re doing there to begin with since they’re both airheads and can’t seem to understand even the simplest of directions, besides which drawing can sometimes get your hands dirty and I would think these girls could better put that time towards even more primping. At the end of class, I pulled the woman aside and told her (as gently as I could) that in future she should take her calls outside so as not to disrupt people. She started making a big deal about the fact that she’s alone raising children and needs to take calls in case of emergencies… and even though I kept repeating that nobody was denying her rights and all I was asking was for her to step outside the fucking class next time (I didn’t swear at her, though at that point I wanted to rip her stupid head off), she and her friend marched off in a huff, giving me dirty looks again, making me out to be the bad guy.

This didn’t sit with me well at all because for one, I felt like I had endured something which shouldn’t have taken place to begin with, so I took it up with the teacher who against all expectations, refused to see my point while another student kept saying the woman had been talking softly and wasn’t being disruptive at all actually so why was I making a big deal about it. To say I was pissed is putting it mildly. Nothing gets me worked up as much as being confronted with such a high degree of stupidity combined with lack of common sense and/or respect for others, besides which I’m paying good money for these art classes and refuse to let a complete moron ruin the experience for me. When I saw the director of fine arts this week, I mentioned the incident to her and asked if there was a school policy about taking phone calls in class. It seems there isn’t, it’s up to individual teachers to decide. Still, she added they would send a memo to all the teachers to ask them to remind students not to disrupts others by taking calls in class.

Still, this morning I had no motivation to show up to class and put up with stupid #1 & #2 as well as unsupportive teacher, but I went anyway telling myself that worse come to worse, I’d bitch-slap the next idiot who got in my face (not really, but just entertaining the thought provided good entertainment value).  So I want to congratulate myself for going to class today and leaving feeling better than I did walking in, while not having recourse to violence to take part in what ought to be a peaceful and relaxing occupation.

When I got home this afternoon, I had a look at how both this blog and createthreesixty5.com are doing in terms of traffic and clicks and so on. Not well. Not well at all. In fact, for the past weeks, both blogs have been getting no more than 20 or so visitors per day. I don’t mind so much about this blog—which actually gets up to 50-60 clicks on some days (woo hoo!)—because who wants to read the kind of crap I’m writing about just now anyway, right? But the other blog… well that hurts a little. Because not only are people NOT participating in something I think can be immensely rewarding for all involved, but they aren’t bothering to see what those who ARE participating are posting even. And then I ask myself the question I always ask myself when I feel down and out: why the hell do I bother? And that’s when I have to remind myself that I do it because I can, and that should be plenty good enough. But should be doesn’t mean it is, and it’s not, actually. So I ask once again, why do I bother?

Off to let the universe work that one out while I take that much-needed nap now.

Pre-Puppy Jitters

This is kind of ridiculous. It’s practically a full-blown anxiety attack I’m going through right now. I’m totally dizzy and I need to keep reminding myself to breathe because I forget to take in enough air.

Yesterday we celebrated my friend K’s 45th b-day with a Tuscan meal that four of her close friends and I prepared for her. She’d been so looking forward to our get-together (the first time she got all her best friends together at the same time) and I wanted the evening to be special too. But then I didn’t sleep well the night before and by the time I got there wasn’t feeling at all well. I hope my lack of enthusiasm didn’t put a damper on the evening. We had lots of delicious food and all overrate. We had made plans for a sleepover and all I could think about was how much I missed Mimi as I tossed and turned all night, trying to get my overfull tummy in a comfortable position and being woken up time and time again by countless nightmares. Had Mimi been with me, I could have cuddled her a little and gone back to sleep to the calming sound of her purring. Morning couldn’t come around too soon and when I got up to join K & her friend A in the kitchen, they told me they heard me talking all night, which came as no surprise considering how tormented my sleep was. I took a morning bus home and promptly lay down on my couch with curtains closed to try to get some decent sleep, this time protected by Mimi sleeping atop me (and… bonus! Fritz too!), but again, an endless chain of disturbing dreams kept me from getting properly rested.

I made the effort to get up and make myself dinner this evening, but all I can think about is that I’ll be brining the puppy home tomorrow. We’ve agreed K and I to pick him up at Animatch around 7 pm (just 22 hours away now!). But I’m so on edge right now that I’m thinking perhaps I should skip my watercolours class, since I’ll probably be too distracted to get much out of it, and pick him up in the early afternoon. I don’t know why I’m so nervous really. It’s silly, but I’m really concerned that I won’t be up to the task, and worse, that the cats will hate me for bringing in another creature. My kittens have been huddling up close to me all day and I can’t help but wonder if after tomorrow… is it likely they’ll do that again?

I know I know… I worry too much. But if I could change that, I’d probably be an altogether different person, right?

Can Creativity Save Lives?

If you’ve been reading me, then you must know I’ve been looking through various name listings lately. I’m looking at “old English names” “Author names” “Artist Names”, etc. for the precious bundle of joy due to arrive here in just 4 or 5 days. Imagine my surprise when I saw listed under “H” in artist names a certain Adolph Hitler. I do recall reading somewhere that he had considered studies in art and architecture. I had never delved too much into the personal history of the man because had never considered him as a human being before—just a scary monster who was best left along with the other underbed dwellers—so the following entry in About.com somehow chilled me to the bone:

Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:
Hitler described himself as a painter in the Academic tradition. Most everyone else who’s seen his work has described Hitler’s painting style as either “Bad” or “Extremely bad.”

Date and place of birth: April 20, 1889, Braunau am Inn, Austria

Life: Though he became convinced in his youth that he possessed great artistic talent, very few other people (besides his own mother) felt similarly about Adolf Hitler. He received an “excellent” mark in Art during his final year of formal schooling, but his failure to complete a Leaving Certificate in the U.S. equivalent of high school did him no favors when he first took the exam to enter the prestigious Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien (Academy of Fine Art in Vienna) in 1907. Ostensibly rejecting him for lack of academic skills, the Academy’s admissions department also commented on Hitler’s lack of understanding of human anatomy. Undaunted, Hitler again took the entrance exam in 1908, with similar results. He temporarily refocused on a future in architecture but this, too, did not come to pass due to lack of education. Regrettably, he then embarked upon a well-documented crooked path toward attempted world domination after this final artistic disappointment.

Important works: None of his own. The most important thing Hitler did for art was to spotlight the “Degenerates” – artists whose works were avant garde, or otherwise failed to meet National Socialist arts policies. Of course, he did this for the wrong reasons, wanting to ridicule and ruin talented artists’ careers. No one was more enraged than he when his plan backfired and the public flocked to Degenerate exhibitions.

Date and place of death: April 30, 1945, Berlin (Committed suicide in an underground bunker of the chancellery building.)

Art quotes by Adolph Hitler:

  • All my life I have wanted to be a great painter in oils … As soon as I have carried out my program for Germany, I shall take up painting. I feel that I have it in my soul to become one of the great artists of the age and that future historians will remember me not for what I have done for Germany, but for my art.
  • As for the degenerate artists, I forbid them to force their so-called experiences upon the public. If they do see fields blue, they are deranged, and should go to an asylum. If they only pretend to see them blue, they are criminals, and should go to prison. I will purge the nation of them.
  • My pictures, in the collections which I have bought in the course of years, have never been collected for private purposes, but only for the extension of a gallery in my home town of Linz on Donau. – from Hitler’s Last Will and Testament dated April 29, 1945.

Sources and Further Reading (see original article)

As you may know (or can easily find out by reading a bit more of this blog), I am on a journey of recovery and so far the most effective form of treatment to get me out of a debilitating clinical depression (the state I’m in by default if I’m not being manic) has been to make creativity and creative output the priority in my life, and wanting to share this experience led me to start createthreesixty5.com.

So far I’ve been very impressed with the quality of work our collaborators have submitted, and I do want to encourage almost all creative effort at all level of experience, perceived talent or skill. But I have asked myself the question “what if someone starts sending in truly horrible stuff? Will I want to have my name attached to that as an aesthete, as a Creative & Art Director?” So far I haven’t had to deal with this issue. But after reading the above, and especially the excellent New Yorker article called Hitler as Artist (the chilling conclusion addresses an issue I have struggled with for the better part of my life), I’m starting to think I have a strong ethical responsibility if I am to become any kind of authority on Creativity at any point in time.

The moral of the story? Better let people express themselves, however “badly” than brimming their creative impulses and risk them lashing out and becoming mass murderers on a universal scale instead. Sheesh.

Drawing by Adolph Hitler. As much as I hate to say it, I don’t find it so bad and would publish it on the other site if someone sent me something in a similar vein. A most troubling thought, all things considered.

Things That Need To Be Said; Cougar’s Story

The following is a slightly edited copy of a comment I just left on the great Animatch site under Cougar’s profile. Cougar is a purebred Boxer who was handed over to this awesome shelter and for whom they currently need any kind of monetary support as there are lots of fees associated with his ongoing medical care. You can read all the details in his profile, but I’ll just say that Cougar was brought in with an ear infection that had been left for so long that it had spread through his body so that he now needs a SECOND surgery since he was brought in to fix his knee which was badly affected. They don’t know at this point whether he will ever fully recuperate from the ordeal. Unbelievable. The comment thread is worth reading, if only for the whole discussion about whether or not it’s appropriate to blame Cougar’s previous owners, and might also explain why I launched into such a long diatribe about animal activism. Here is the message I posted:

Greetings.

Stories like Cougar’s make me hopping mad, but I think that’s precisely the reason why they need to be told—to remind us that there are too many animals out there being poorly looked after (if at all) and that we humans as a collective—not just animal lovers—have a responsibility towards making their lives at the very least bearable. This is the very same responsibility we have to help people in developing countries achieve decent standards of living. I strongly believe that word of mouth about why neutering and spaying are important are steps in the right direction. But I also think that as long as humanity doesn’t achieve a higher state of consciousness (which though I am hopeful, will probably take a “little while” longer…), there will need to be laws in place to punish those who behave so irresponsibly towards animals so that theses matters will be taken seriously and not endured in silence.

Those who want to be “nice” and “pleasant” and choose to forgive abusive and neglectful owners are doing the victims the same disservice as those who choose to ignore abuse of women and children. Animals in particular don’t have the option of bettering their own lives as we humans do, and we MUST take actions as a society to enforce the decent treatment of animals. The situation as it is currently makes me think of what things were like back in the ‘50’s when alcoholism, smoking and corporal punishment (to name just those) were all taken for granted as things that were acceptable and “normal”, even if not necessarily talked about. I wasn’t around then, but I choose to be vocal about my opinions on controversial matters because it is the only form of activism I can engage in at the moment and I refuse to sit back and stay quiet about situations that could relatively easily be turned around if enough of us choose to say what needs to be said.

To get things to change, you first have to TALK about the real situation without trying to make it any prettier. If it’s ugly and painful or even disgusting, it must be said. Then those who have the energy and stamina to fight the good fight can find the support they need (via petitions and the like) to sway politicians to put policies in place to effect REAL change. This will only happen we enough of us speak up and form large collectives.

Helen, Joanne & Co., [Animatch founder and volunteers] I salute you for not only making these animals a priority in your lives but also for being able to keep your cool with those responsible for the horrible mistreatment of these helpless creatures so that at least they will be brought to shelters like yours instead of being abandoned and left to fend for themselves. I will also put money where my mouth is as soon as my next pay cheque comes in to help poor Courageous Cougar.

I think the Animatch adoption fees are more than reasonable considering some people are willing to dish out THOUSANDS of dollars to “reputable” breeders for the simple privilege of knowing their adoptee is a “purebred”. But then somehow, some of the very same people seem to have no qualms about opening the door and letting puppy wander off when they find he/she is too much trouble to have around. How else can you explain so many purebred dogs finding themselves in shelters? No matter what the dog’s pedigree is, adopting another living being comes with real responsibilities, not the least of which, financial, and the costs shelters face need to be covered by those who benefit from the services provided with such compassion and dedication. I strongly urge those reading this to consider pet insurance. For a reasonable monthly cost, you can plan for those times when your pet will need serious medical intervention, which will inevitably happen if you keep your animal “till death do us part”—of natural causes, I should add. [Because opting to have an animal “put down”—a hypocritical euphemism if there ever was one—just because vet bills might get too high is simply not an acceptable alternative. Imagine if we did that with people!]

This is a long and rambling one, but I felt these things needed to be said. I certainly wouldn’t wish upon the previous owners of Cougar to cross my path because, as nice a person as I can be most of the time, I wouldn’t mind delivering a swift kick in the shins [to start with!] to cruel abusers like that. THAT’s what they are—because neglect is one of the most pernicious forms of abuse—of course that wouldn’t help anything at all, but I do strongly believe that Karma comes back and bites those who’ve disrespected the natural order of things [and that gives me some measure of comfort at least].

I’ve said my peace and stand by every single word herein.

Cougar’s photo by David, Animatch’s volunteer animal photographer.
See lots more fantastic dog photos by David on the site.