Response to the Article "The Downside of Isolation" from Robert Genn’s Newsletter: “The Painter’s Keys”
by Jeanean Songco Martin
Hello Robert, This is an interesting and thought provoking article. It touches on an idea that I have thought about often. Is it more beneficial for the artist to work in solitude? Does socialization actually hinder the creative spirit or help it? I believe that we create our best work in solitude but without the companionship of other painters and people in general, we lose an enriching opportunity to bounce ideas around, appreciate each other’s work, and also get feedback which is very important. The “shared human experience” is something that reaches down into our psyche. It is a helpful feeling, as you say, that we are all in this together.
The common experience of painting and the challenges shared are similar. We are not totally unique in what we do. The uniqueness in our art is what identifies and separates us from others. One of my old professors used to say to our class just before we picked up the brush. "Remember you are standing in the same spot before a blank canvas as Leonardo, Rembrandt and Velasquez". That thought of identifying with greatness would always stay with me, that this "act of painting" is repeated over and over again in a darkened cave by a hunter, etched in stone on a mountain cliff, scribbled in crayon in a child's classroom, and foolishly by me, standing in front of God's creation trying to replicate that beauty in paint and finally in my lone studio in front of my own easel. It is a unique moment that combines our craft, skills and souls to say what is in our heart.
I have the words from a Joni Mitchell song from her album Blue on my easel. “I am a lonely painter. I live in a box of paints”. We all live in our own little world but we are not in a vacuum and if we embrace the aura of being “in the experience” of life at its fullest , we can move in and out of that expansiveness into the womb of solitary creative experience. It is not unlike a dance, a lovely waltz and who would want to waltz all alone, I ask?
Upon returning from my workshops I always create a “keepsake” video as a gift for my workshop participants. It is not for sale or public use. It is a visual "thank you card", a collection of images and music only for their enjoyment. The video I am working on now is from my workshop in New Mexico last September. I like to do this as a gift for the students but also for myself to reflect on the experience and revisit some of the beautiful places through the images. As a musician I feel it is important to add music to the visual experience. Places I have seen many times before take on new meaning with each new person that I share that experience with. My goal is to give back a moment in time, a recollection of the“shared experience”, that can never be had in isolation.
On this trip our group had the privilege of visiting Sherrie McGraw and David Leffel’s beautiful home and studio in Taos. It was an experience I will never forget. In my research for the keepsake video I came across a statement written by David Leffel who so eloquently expresses his thoughts on painting and life. I also feel our life and our work are one and cannot be separated.
“When I first started painting I just thought it was something I’d like to do — and if I could make some money at it, then I didn’t have to get a job! As I went further into it, I needed confirmation that the things I was discovering in paint were true. I found that if it was true in painting, it was also true in life. Painting is like an interlocking set of relationships — color, edges, values, thick and thin, etc. Life is the same. Everything is interrelated. All of life is like one big, interlocking relationship. Everything you do has a consequence to everything else.” David A. Leffel.