6. Was Sisyphus A Performance Artist?

The Fracture, 2006, oil on linen, 28 x 22 inches.

The Fracture, 2006, oil on linen, 28 x 22 inches.

There have been so few times when a painting of mine was a pleasure to create from start to finish. I can count on one hand those times when the image seemed magically to reveal itself on my canvas before my very eyes with little effort on my part, painting itself as I watched in wonder as if a mist was being slowly lifted.

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Typically, however, that's not the way it goes. In the vast majority of cases, the first three-quarters of the process is a dirty, sweaty, frustrating slog through a seemingly endless creative quagmire in an attempt eventually to arrive at that distant, shining image I hold in my mind.

A better metaphor is that of climbing a mountain. The going is hard and tiresome, requiring frequent stops to rest and check the compass or map to make sure I'm on the right path. I call this part of the painting process "the ugly phase." The painting bears little resemblance to the idealized finished product. It's an irritating mishmash of tentative, searching, probing, clumsy brush strokes. Putting one foot in front of the other requires sheer bare knuckle determination.

It's at these times that Truman Capote's quote comes to mind: "When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended for self-flagellation solely." I don't mean to imply that the creative process is sadomasochistic, yet, his statement certainly rings true. Reaching the top of the creative mountain often requires the artist periodically to apply a stick to one's stubborn mule to keep it moving toward the top.

The good thing, though, is that I've scaled this mountain many times before. I faithfully trust that something good is waiting for me at the end of the journey if I persevere.

Unlike Sisyphus, I do eventually reach the top. In every case, the pinnacle appears unexpectedly. When it does, the work suddenly becomes effortless and joyful as I start down the other side of the mountain.

Unfortunately, the path to the finish line at the bottom passes very quickly and the enjoyment is relatively short-lived.

Short, perhaps, but intensely sweet and satisfying. Orgasmic! And it's that blissful sensation that keeps me returning again and again to scale the creative mountain. Thankfully, it's a different mountain each time so the challenge and reward are always new.

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As in sex, so in art. It can be said that foreplay begins the day before. So true! Actually, depending on how you look at it, three-quarters of life is foreplay. Might as well enjoy it!

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