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

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4 thoughts on “Hunger and Apathy

  1. Sometimes it is about being happy with ourselves rather than what we do. I have spent the best part of my life feeling that I have not achieved my own potential and am not even aware of the limits of the same. Apathy? I don’t think so. It is fear – and not perhaps fear of rejection but a fear that we don’t come up to our own expectations of ourselves. Finding that place where we can be comfortable with ourselves is easy to say but difficult to achieve. In my case I had to go into business and concentrate on something else in order not to torment myself with frustrated artistic achievement/expression.

  2. Your questions have no answers, Smiler. These questions have haunted every creative soul from time immemorial. Does your soul hunger to achieve or hunger to express? What? To whom?

    The older, weaker, more mortal I grow, the simpler the answers (to me): I hunger to express my appreciation to all who and whatever have brought me joy. Even though I fail at that (as I’ve failed to express myself adequately my entire life), it makes me feel good to try.

    Me twenty years younger? Whole different answer. Neither answer was ever wrong or right. Be grateful for the creative, feeling, hurting, yearning, tortured soul. That’s a soul of substance.

    I’d hate to have a cold stone in its place.

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