The act [of making art] includes a sacrifice and a risk. This is the sacrifice: the endless possibility that is offered up on the altar of the form.
– Martin Buber
When I draw or paint in gouache, I put marks down, allow them to sit a while, then ask, “Do you belong?” I am not afraid of taking them out; sometimes, I put them back in. In the end, for each remaining line a multitude are gone, buried beneath a blizzard of white paint, false moves and indecision taken out as best I can manage, the end result a consequence of every move along the way.
I don’t know how to paint what is without what is not: residue is always part of the story.
If vividly hued lines visibly meandering in abstract lyricism can be said to sing of joy and presence, then we must ascribe to the white sorrow and absence: the jetsam of what has been sacrificed to the work’s making. What we surrender.
“The endless possibility that is offered up on the altar of the form” is how philosopher Martin Buber describes the cost involved in making art. He goes on to say more about the hard truth of negation:
“All that but a moment ago floated playfully through one’s perspective has to be exterminated; none of it may penetrate into the work.”
(White, tinged in melancholy, textured as pain – essential foil to effervescent color.)
I love my life in Maine, and I also wake up many mornings feeling sad. Not for my life as it is, but for all I’ve let go along the way – the elimination of other possibilities, the requisite sacrifice and surrender, lifestyles and loved ones declined.
I can only have what I have because of what I have not.
(As with a gouache drawing.)
In Babette’s Feast, through the words of General Löwenhielm, Isak Dinesen writes of grace – the deliverance that comes following hard choice, rendering choice no choice at all:
“Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace, brothers, makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty. See! That which we have chosen is given us, and that which we have refused is, also and at the same time, granted us.”
In making art, I am daily reminded of choosing and grace. Art is hard, and life is hard – it’s why I wake up sad sometimes, here in the dappled sun of early summer. But in making art, in embracing erasure as fully part of what becomes, I am practicing life.
I am practicing acceptance. I am finding grace.
I don’t know how else to paint. Or live.