a fool’s errand

a paradox occurred to me :  in the practice of producing artwork, the paintings that end up feeling vital and worthwhile upon completion undergo radical shifts of direction from the initial inspiration and conviction that begins the work. There is a necessary openness to a change of direction that allows a painting to rest on a level beyond one’s limitations in setting out. The paradox is that the changing shape of the inspiration can’t be understood in setting out. The painting teaches you how to paint it, the best work often develops its own logic. Essentially,  or intrinsically, a good painting reveals itself as an object guided by an inspiration the artist couldn’t have understood. And in the practice of producing artwork there comes a point when one must abandon the initial inspiration for the painting and engage with new responsibilities that emerge through engagement with the reality of the particulars new sets of directions. The objet delivers a message that is inevitably separate from the inspiration that guided it . The message that one sets out with is never delivered, but something will be.

Another part: one must continually renew one’s belief in art in order to continue, and part of this renewal means that one accepts new understandings of things. To be the most honest in each renewal one must be capable of destroying what one no longer sees as true. And then there is the dimension of engagement that one must accept that one will never understand, and that one also cannot escape, and then go on nonetheless. Connected to this thought is the fact that often conceptual ideas appear through a chance occurrence in material, unpredicted – the way the pure material functions gives way to conceptual thought and signification. And so communications are always occurring in multiple languages and from somewhere entirely outside the artist.

But so here is the paradox: one begins with an inspiration and conviction, then understands this inspiration to be limited or misinterpreted, encounters chance occurrences, the direction of pursuit changes, perhaps several times,  reflection and renewal informs forward motion, one wills chance into necessity, until there is a painting that balances communication with material. SO – if the inspiration that begins a painting must necessarily be abandoned, how do we learn to live by the language of inspiration?
It is only in beginning that an opening occurs, even if the beginning is essentially misguided.  One must first misunderstand before understanding, and understanding is retroactive. So then, inspiration is the call to action. But to move forward, one has to listen in a different language, one has to allow the mind to turn off and be open. What one risks in this turning off is the revealing of one’s soul as nonexistent, allowing something else to take its place. This is perhaps terrifying, but the task is to allow what finds passage to be revealed – the paintings have got to be awake and also speak the language of dreams.

About Michael Johnson

michaeljohnson.studio thewindandthestones.com viewfromaburrow.com

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