Friday, December 12, 2008


Last evening on the Science Channel, there was a program about people who, after having had a brain anurysem or being struck by lightning, develop overriding compulsions. In the case of one of them, it was compulsive art-making. The man, formerly a chiropractor with no artistic inclinations, now has a compulsive urge to draw. Oh great, I thought, art-making is a result of brain damage... maybe someone dropped me on my head when I was an infant.

I was listening to the television while I sewed in the next room but when the program featured a display of the works of this man along with another fellow similarly afflicted I had to see what kind of art they were doing. I was very disappointed- and a bit relieved I must confess- to see that their works, while prolific, were cliche-ridden, overworked, and uninspired. The brain damage had given them the irresistible urge to draw but had not gifted them with any real talent or discernment. They were compelled to make marks but the marks were not worth keeping.

Another subject of the program had developed a sudden musical compulsion after being struck by lightning but instead of just pounding away on the piano and calling it music, he actually took lessons to channel his new compulsion. He actually became a musician. It took him 15 years to get the music that was playing in his brain, urging him onward, onto paper; while the art-compulsives just spewed onto paper and called it art. That the musician's work may have been equally cliche-ridden when it was finally finished is for others to decide, I do not have a particularly discerning ear; but at least he saw that he needed to train his new gift.

Why the relief? Well, for me art making is both a joy and a bit of torture. I work my way into corners and then have to work my way out of them again. Sometimes I can't solve the problem and have to put the piece aside, sometimes the idea has to percolate on the back-burner of my brain for quite a while. It is work, not spewing. And sometimes I feel like I am surrounded by spewers. There are more than a few talented artists in this area but too often I go to a local salon show and am dismayed by the extremely poor quality of what some people here consider art. Perhaps they suffer the same compulsion as the fellows above and also lack the discernment and discipline to make real art. Even more distressing but inevitable, some of the spewers are also very accomplished promoters and manage to make decent livings. Ah well, back to work.

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