If you only read one book this year, make it Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. I read it at least once a year. You can read it in one sitting, as long as you don’t check your phone too many times…
I picked it up again yesterday and found in its pages the reason why I have so comfortably walked away from painting. I have said, on many occasions, that I could easily never paint again, although I could never foresee a life in which I don’t appreciate the art of others. I’ve finally realised that I am a spectator in the visual art world and I am totally happy with that! To paraphrase Rilke below, ‘if one feels they could live without’ painting, ‘then one shouldn’t’ paint ‘at all.’ Not if the goal was to pursue art, to make a career from it…as was my goal.
Writing though…I get edgy if life gets in the way and I don’t get time to journal, to blog, to get some words down in my notebook. I must write.
I am passionate about writing, but it’s deeper than that because I am very well known for my passion for painting also. But my true passion for painting lies in the seeing, the colour, the appreciation, the history.
(In fact, I came to know of Rilke’s work by visiting the Musée Rodin in Paris. Rilke had been Rodin’s personal secretary and had written his biography. Rodin lived and worked in the magnificent Hôtel Biron, once home to the equally magnificent Isadora Duncan. My interest in Duncan, the fascinating American dancer who died when the elaborate scarf she was wearing became entangled in the wheels of her chauffeur driven car, led me to the museum!)
As I’ve said before, painting leaves me empty, bereft. I need a lie-down afterward. It doesn’t fill me the way writing does. Some people say writers don’t love writing, but rather they love ‘having written’. This isn’t the case for me. I love writing and I think it might be my gift and my purpose. Old conditioning kicked in when I wrote that. Who am I to have a gift? Who am I to think I have something to offer the world?
Confession time – I drank too much when I was painting. I had the idea that I needed to drink at least half a bottle of wine to finish a painting. That’s a very bad idea and a very slippery slope! C’mon….everyone does it! It’s Wine Time, or the 3 g&ts after work, or the post-game beer or 4… I just happened to look all arty and classy, standing at my easel with a large glass of French wine in my hand.
I have a Pinterest board (such a middle-class thing to write…) called Write Drunk, Edit Sober. It’s a quote from good old Ernest Hemingway who drank himself to death, a cautionary tale if ever there was one, especially once a writer reaches the point in their career where others do most of the editing for them.
Last year I made a conscious decision to create a firm boundary between drinking and writing. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t an alcoholic by any stretch of the imagination, but I was concerned that I would create resistance for my writing along the lines of ‘oh I can’t write tonight…because I can’t drink…because I might have to drive somewhere’.
That’s fucked up, but it’s the true confession here. That was the kind of head-space I was in when painting and of course, it was never about the drinking…