Nick Cave, the cosmetics of identity, and introspection through doing.
If I had an opportunity to give Kellie advice, I would tell her that she cannot know herself, particularly as an artist, until she makes art. Art is not expansive and freeing, it is pure limitation. 'The line will go from here to there and its shape will be like this.' 'The tone which I choose for this section calls for the word ascertain. Determine simply will not do.' The writer must buy erasers in bulk or perhaps always stinks of whiteout.(Dated but I need the image. Which is the point.) The painter has enough rejected canvasses to build a shed out of. Art is the willful choice to reject everything that is not the art, which means the main thing to be rejected is...the Artist.
Art is all about the artist. But it is not about his presence but his absence. Even in writing an autobiography you must erase the writer. Even in a self-portrait of you painting a self-portrait you can never paint yourself as you are in the moment, but must paint the artist that is retained in your mind, and reject any intrusion from the still-existing self. The artist is the mold in which the art is formed. Introspection is the solvent that dissolves the artist. That is the introspection that is needed. Kellie wants to know herself before she paints, but the artist knows himself by what things he removes from the painting. Art is the sacrifice of self to obtain the boon of communicating with the outside world. If you want to know if you are an artist, 'Make some art.'
Love the pic of Cy’s studio!
The dam metaphor really lands. Crucial to have both action and reflection. Great piece
The idea of action as a myriad of experiments on who we are, with no underlying eternal essence, is amazing.
A realization that has been working its way to the surface for me is that the only way to have a consistent and stable "self" identity is to expand it to include all of the changing spectrum of your experience over time. Like the old metaphor of a boat being replaced plank by plank...is it still the same boat when all of its planks have been replaced? We are like that too, but with experience, and if we grasp for some single defining "who am i" we suffer deeply because there is no such thing. In redefining "self" identity to be a result OF our decisions, rather than a constraint ON our decisions then we are liberated in the moment...our identity is stabilized in the process of living, and it flexes with the context of our existence. Our identity becomes, basically, the way in which we handle change.
Rick Rubin also talks about a similar concept to Nick Cave's ide of the "muse." Rubin calls it "the Source." As much as I enjoyed Rubin's book, I am not very comfortable with the idea that there is a "Source" or "Muses" out there and that we are just vessels for them. I think practicing introspection through "doing" works for me best if I am working on something.
Thank you for your insights!
Hey Henrik, great article. I agree that asking yourself ‘what am I supposed to be doing’ is an upward spiral of never-ending anxiety.
However, I’m curious more about your position on therapy. I find that working out who I am through therapy, talking things out, or uncovering traumatic experiences that have crafted me, has only ever helped me.
Who knows though? Maybe I could’ve been a greater artist if I didn’t uncover these things in therapy or inner work an just ran to my art with a machete.
Am I misinterpreting the idea of therapy here?
Excellent insight. The distinction between passive and active introspection is brilliant Thank you, Henrik.
Regarding the value of holding off on the passive type, I highly recommend Lewis Thomas's essay "The Attic of the Brain," which makes essentially the same point by arguing that there's creative danger in psychoanalysis and other such means by which we seek to become too acutely aware of the contents of our own subconscious minds.
It's like to find yourself you must lose yourself.
You must get out of your mind and actively experiment with your environment and the things you feel driven to do. Then get back into yourself and make meaning of the insights from your experience.
Before now, I had thoughts of this active and passive forms of introspection, but your articulation has given wings to my thoughts. Thank you Henrik.
I've been thinking about this alot lately, especially in the sense of therapy that continually seems to throw me deeper into looking and not listening. I've been contemplating once a month sessions, or, ad hoc, because in a sense I feel like those sessions are decreasing my personal understanding of me. Albeit when I started I desperately needed some help and guidance, but there is a point where I keep asking "why do I keep showing up here?" Listening to my writing, my photography, nature, the streets, my dog, and my daily rhythms sometimes help me feel more like myself than a 50 minute long dive into larger, complex, knotty questions. Glad I'm not the only one like this. Really grateful for this piece.