A few days ago, we had to wait for my four year-old to finish work on a painting before we could leave. He is a very intense painter, though his technique is a little rough.
First, he licks the black lacquer finish of the piano and then etches his drawings into the spit with quick fingers. He is quite deliberate with the licking. He presses his tongue against the side of the piano so that it flattens out and then he slowly moves down the side of the piano.
Once he is satisfied with the density of the base, he begins to work. His first strokes are light, but it is clear that he has infinite confidence in his vision. Quickly, he moves beyond rough sketching and his strokes become bold and confident. He lets loose in sweeping arcs and swirls. He zig zags and he scrubs; all with the tip of his index finger.
“Sam, it’s time to go.”
“Come on, Sam. Let’s put your shoes on.”
“No. I’m painting.”
I’m painting. How clear his purpose and intent, how pure his vision. If only I could get back to that state where nothing mattered but the moment and the art. I suppose this is the dream of every grown artist, to reach back to that child-like intensity while maintaining the technical mastery that comes with years of practice and study.
Today is for feeling strong.
I watch the skies. Water drips from the awning. The drops pluck at puddles left behind by the rumbles of faded storms.
When do we lose that intense sureness?
There is no question that my son was painting. He worked in such a way that one was certain that there was nothing else more important in all the world. I’ve seen that look before on the faces of artists. It borders on obsession, on mania.
When the drive of such passion takes hold in one so young, what could the future hold? I worry about this because I cannot see how his work will ever be more pure, how it will be possible for him to maintain and improve his work. Of course, as I watch him and think of his inevitable let down, I know that I am really thinking about myself and not him. If he chooses to pursue a path of Art, he will have his own demons to deal with not mine.
I remember a lightning storm when I was six or seven. It seemed like the bolts crashed down on us for hours. I hear the deep cracking of trees. Violent wind abusing the branches and raking the shingles from the roof. I recall these images in the black and white bedroom night, of youthful memories of night. I laid there in the bed as the sparks lit up the room, flashed behind the curtain. I was in awe, amazed at the power of the storm and the speed at which so much happened and passed. I heard the deep calling of old trees, their pain and their glory at dying such a magnificent death. To be such an old tree and to have seen so many things over the years, and then in one powerful blast to die, split apart by the fury of the sky, of a storm come up from the Gulf of Mexico and through all the middle states along the Mississippi to this moment, this night. Did the tree feel the rising pulse of electricity?
The chances of being struck by lightning once are astronomical, but once struck, the chances of being struck again go up dramatically (assuming you lived through the first blast).
How does an artist live through blast after blast of creative energy? How do the electrons gather for transmission to the medium? And what does an artist do with that inspiration after it strikes? How do they mold the results between outbursts?
I’m writing of lightning and storms, of youthful memories that are more intense than adult experience. But the most intense storms I’ve seen were witnessed as an adult.
Three winters ago we had a terrible ice storm followed by howling winds that ripped the frozen trees apart and caused transformers to explode all around the city. I happened to be outside shoveling in the dark when the wind came on and I watched at the sky glowed strange electrical colors hot pink and blushing greens. Intense white flashes brighter than any bolt of lightning. In the space of five minutes, at least six transformers blew and unlike the sound of thunder that strikes down into the heart, a transformer’s bizzap makes your hair stand on end like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Such storms will wake you from a dead sleep, and if you’re lucky they’ll strike you when you’re already awake. Breathe in that moment and feel the sure sense of what you are doing. Move forward and claim your right with pure and intense action.