Monday night, our local PBS station, WHYY, offered a rare treat. They broadcast an hour-long documentary on one of Philadelphia's best known living artists,
Bo Bartlett in conjunciton with an exhibition of his work at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. This event was rare because:
1. It's seldom that a local painter is featured in any program here.
2. It's rarer still that a local, living painter is given such focus.
I like Bartlett's work, despite it being somewhat sterile at times. I like figurative work, but it has to be done well and Bartlett is one of the few contemporary realist, figurative painters whom I think is good at what he does. Beyond that, I really connected with the sheer will, ambition, and determination he's cultivated to stay focused on his work. There was this connection to a very palpable 'search' going on that fuels much of my own creative endeavors and, which I suspect, is the same for other creative people.
This all relates to conversations and thoughts I've been having lately. It first came up a couple of months ago when I had a conversation with Gabrielle, one of my studio-mates. We got on the subject of the type of guy she had been dating before she met her present boyfriend. She said that it was an adjustment to getting used to someone who was so, and I'm paraphrasing, "so settled and unquestioning...someone who was happy where he was and accepted it". While on the other hand, her other relationships were with people who were creative in some way and were seemingly always searching and questioning what they were doing and the world around them.
That conversation has been with me for a while now and I've been thinking about the search I've been on as a painter. What it is I'm searching for doesn't matter; I honestly don't know what it is I'm truly after most of the time. It changes all the time. I know I'm attempting to express something; some relationship to my enviornment, some emotion/feeling, beauty, whatever...What matters is that there's this very real pull to define something which, ultimately, is undefinable to me. The act of creating, itself, is being in a constant state of questioning. Each painting I do invariably winds up leaving more quetions to be dealt with. There simply isn't an answer. The minute you begin thinking that you've found answer in your work, then what's the use of continuing to paint? There's no point in going on with it if you know the answer to what it is you have been after. Life is exactly the same way. There is no answer to the question, "What is life?" That only leads to more questions and there isn't a definitive answer to be found.
So why put myself through all of the ups and downs, self doubt and confidence, etc...? I don't know why, I just have to do what I do and I love it. It's that simple. What makes creativity worthwhile for me is knowing that I'm in an active conversation with life and ideas. You can't be passive and be creative, these are mutually exclusive. It just doesn't work. Creativity arises out of passion and for there to be passion means that you have to be engaged in life at some level. Not just thinking about it, but living, feeling, and being it.