Saturday, March 7, 2009

Hard But Rewarding

Philip Guston: today's exhibit A of how hard it is to make what you have to make.  There's a good article on him and his work in the Washington Post.  Talk about heroism - he was an acclaimed cerebral abstract expressionist when all of a sudden he pulled a u-ie and went cartoony low-life.  He went from this:

to this: 

Formally there are a lot of similarities between these two paintings.  That's a digression.

So-called friends dumped him (for changing his painting style?  That's not friendship) and in the beginning the critics excoriated him.  

Guston won though, as we can see (links to google image search)  These days it's hard to find a contemporary artist who doesn't worship him.  He had the guts to moon his meal ticket.  He abandoned conventional success for bald honesty and the grueling job of facing his darkest emotions.  These late works are paintings of vicious battles fought doggedly and, in the end, with compassion.  They aren't pretty paintings but they are beautiful.

I don't want to belittle his early work though.  Only Athena sprung fully developed from the head of Zeus (what the hell am I talking about?!)  The rest of us have to build our strength and skills to be able to do our best work.  We have to get fed-up with ourselves and with what we've already done.  We have to find our way before we can take a shot at being a hero.

I hope that what I'm doing now is the foundation for more difficult work to come.  I know I'm not ready yet to take on my incarnations of the monsters Guston fought.  At least, not head-on.  The truth is I can't even imagine how to do this.  I have to do what I'm doing now at the very least because I don't know what else to do.  

So why complain?  Just get to work!


lizkdc said...

"He had the guts to moon his meal ticket. He abandoned conventional success for bald honesty and the grueling job of facing his darkest emotions."

This whole post is so gorgeous . .

Pete said...

Great thoughts. We should all be so brave.

michaela said...

I had some unexpected free time to read the Post article tonight...

Funny. Artists of all people, you would think, might leave their mind's door ajar... open to the fresh air of change. But it turns out that human nature overrides artist nature more often than not. We like to be comfortable. We like when people agree with us.

But we feel so alive when let go of our old trapeze bar and cruise through the air, hoping and believing that we will grab hold of something solid on the other side of the electric void.

The best thing we can do for ourselves is to trust the unknown, and the best thing we can do for our friends is to trust that they make the brave choice to leap into the unknown as well.

This reminds me of a thought I was having about music. People will get all bent out of shape when a brilliant musician happens to write a pop song, or vice versa. Why? Who cares. I can not imagine a world with only ONE flavor of ice cream, ONE kind of music or ONE style of artistic expression.

Those narrow ideas about art seem... stale.

Thanks for posting this. I like ALL of his work. And yes, I also agree with your digression. :)

Susan B. said...

Hi Mel:
Well put! I enjoyed reading this post and am definitely keep your blog on my list of blogs to check in with. Keep on makin' things.

charlie said...

Yes, but...

I name cats after my heroes. Phil got one.

charlie said...

Looks like it's out of print! I'll find/loan you my copy.