art and the current malaise

As a painter I try to apply as much discipline and new knowledge as possible into the mix with imagination and technique.  I work every day, starting early in the morning until mid-afternoon.  For me, that is the best way to keep things fresh: I just dive in, feet first and hope the muse will join in along the way.  (If I waited for her I’d be doomed.) This is a technique that writers advise and there’s no reason not to put it to work in the studio.  So far, it has kept me from slogging through painter’s block and it’s kept my skills sharp.

The other thing I like to do on a regular basis is participate in critiques.  These have been a fantastic resource in the years since I began painting and a really good critique “class” can really move a body of work into another level.

As methods go, I can’t find anything wrong with these.  What is sometimes hard these days is maintaining the enthusiasm.  While accolades, compliments and the occasional significant purchase are usually enough, I’ve noticed that lately a certain malaise has settled over everyone.  It’s like a fog that drains the enthusiasm out of the simplest things. It’s not just me and it’s not just the art world.  It’s society in general, at least in the States, and it seems to be attached to a sort of dangling anxiety.  Everyone seems uneasy  so they don’t really dare to step out,  make major moves, take risks.  It’s like everyone, everywhere is waiting for the other shoe to drop, and expecting it to crush us.

My personal response has been to paint ever more relentlessly happy paintings — architectural abstracts with strict delineations, but in bright, happy colors — as if by the mere act, I can bring in a wave of positive energy.  I know – too New Agey by half, but think about it.  There is a whiff of possibility there.  If we all started moving forward again, as if there were no recession, as if we weren’t all uneasy, maybe the forward momentum could create the positive energy needed to turn it around.  After all, if the economy collapses, these will look like the good ole days, so what’s to lose?

A discussion of all this on Facebook over the weekend came around to the  law of inertia, and that may be the best summation:  a body at rest tends to stay at rest.  But a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  Maybe we all just need to get moving.  Do the work, even if the muse isn’t there.  What could it hurt?  And you know we all feel better when we have something to do.

Volunteer.  Pick up litter.  Read to sick kids.  Visit old people. Every institution in America needs help right now.  They have all had to lay off staff and have had budgets slashed.  So, those of us with the time, instead of moaning and worrying and hunching over the computer wondering when it’s all going to change, can effect the change.  Even one day a month would be significant.  There are 14 million people unemployed.  A lot of those people are fit enough to volunteer in any number of arenas.  Think about it.  What’s the Buddhist adage about the fluttering wings of a butterfly?

Even if it didn’t help the economy, it’s still working the muscle and maybe even learning something new.  Maybe a volunteer might find a new direction and find a job.  Maybe a volunteer team goes on to do something else together.  Off the couch, away from the computer, out of the house.  Those results alone would probably cheer a few people up. It’s a thought.

In the meantime, I am going to continue to paint bright abstracts.  I know they bring some smiles.  And that’s a good thing, too.




About Carol Joy Shannon

A former sailor of the seven seas, living in my beloved Lowcountry, between the blackwater swamps and the saltmarshes, surrounded by pre-revolutionary history.....thinking about current events....painting dinosaurs and other whimsical animals for children, with the occasional abstract or new cityscape for my delightful collectors. The best thing about being a seasoned old salt is sitting down not running around, so...
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