Being a painter is a lot like being a human being. Time after time, I approach a blank canvas with a preformed notion of how the painting is going to play out. From the beginning of the piece, I have this imagined end in mind, a completed painting that is daring and masterful- so I go about trying to control the process, directing the work towards this imagined end, totally unprepared for all the problem-solving inherent to the act of painting and intolerant of all those genius accidents/mistakes that ultimately make a painting successful. The painting is underway and I default into a total control freak. In reality, I have no better chance of steering the painting where I want it to go than I have of throwing a saddle on a grizzly bear and telling it to canter. It reminds me of Steve Buscemi’s character in Armageddon, riding the nuclear warhead- some things (most things) are simply too big for us to handle on our own.
We are safer and wiser to acknowledge the limits of our control, and the possibility of beauty comes with the act of submission. Every time I get a painting to that imagined end, it grinds to a halt at some cute, nice and neat dead end- and the only chance I have of salvaging the painting is to kill it. The thing has to die to be rescued from cuteness. It has to die to live on. The master sculptor Andy Goldsworthy said “total control can be the death of a work”. These words are trustworthy and true. Left up to our own devices and control, we are self-destructive creatures, and it is only when we submit to that intervening, outside force, Grace, that we find life and experience beauty. It’s the right kind of death, death of self, that leads to life, and it’s the wrong kind of death we encounter when we try to cling to life on our town terms.
The irony of painting, and the part that just doesn’t seem to stick in my memory despite its guaranteed recurrence, is that none of my better paintings bear much resemblance to that initial image in my head. One of my painting heroes, Richard Diebenkorn said, “I seem to have to do it elaborately wrong and with many conceits first. Then maybe I can attack and deflate my pomposity and arrive at something straight and simple.” You can liken it to issues you encounter every day: being in a relationship, sticking to your “five-year plan” if you were bold enough to devise one, raising perfect children (so I’ve been told), etc.
And yet, we persist in our stubbornness! Quick example: I ride my bike to my studio every day but I stop at the coffee shop first, drink my coffee and get a fifty cent refill for the road. It’s too cheap to pass up. So every day I have this dilemma- I want more coffee, but it’s magma hot and I’m on my bike- and every day I think to myself, master of my own destiny, “Self, get on that bike and ride damnit, you’re the boss!”- and every day I burn the top of my hand with coffee when the traffic light at Preston and McIntyre turns red at the bottom of the hill. Van Morrison sang “when will I ever learn to live in God, when will I ever learn?” Living in God means chunking my plan for the painting when the time comes to let it run in a new, unexpected direction. It means submitting our five-year plans, our relationships, and our children to the perfect care and sovereign will of a loving Father who takes joy in our flourishing. After all, He is the author of beauty and the One who is making all things new.
(Check out this link to see Andy Goldsworthy relinquishing control and encountering beauty that transcends his own faculties: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBcdL8uO71E)