Archive for Allen Ginsberg

Notes From the Studio: Swagger & Despair

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , on April 10, 2010 by Liz Hager


Mark Rothko, White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950
Oil on canvas,
(Private Collection)

Swagger and despair—two sides of the same coin permanently on deposit in an artist’s pocket.

To be an artist in search of an audience is to possess a deep unwavering belief in the uniqueness of one’s talent, or voice.  As it turns out, the mantra oft chanted in business circles—i.e. “Fake it ’til you make it”—is also at work in the world of art.

More often than we may admit, we artists talk a good game—we hit deadlines and speak as if our talent is undisputed—even in the face of deep feelings of doubt and insecurity.  That’s swagger.

But the private and elusive Holy Grail—the creative “AH-HA” moment—knows no deadline. And therein lies the essence of despair.

With alarming regularity we go into the studio bereft of inspiration. Despair slips in before the door shuts behind us.  Like an alien being it hovers over us, ever present, pulsating silently.  Often despair completely envelops us, greedily sucking the creative will from our bones.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Multiform), 1948
Oil on canvas,
(Collection of Kate Rothko Prizel)

The term “creative block” is a wholly-inadequate descriptor.  Who has not waited for days on end hoping for a divine spark? As days wear on without inspiration, who has not felt like a creative fraud—an interloper or, worse yet, a spy in the House of Art?

My nemesis appears in the form of a Canson Montval 9×12 inch sheet. I’ve managed to put a 3 1/2 inch square in the center of the paper. Good start, but what’s next?  It’s easy to get twisted in my knickers.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Seagram Mural sketch), 1959
Oil on canvas
(National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc.)

In disquieting times I find comfort in Allen Ginsberg’s advice:

The parts that embarrass you the most are usually the most interesting poetically, are usually the most naked of all, the rawest, the goofiest, the strangest, the most eccentric and at the same time, most representative, most universal. . . That was something I learned from Kerouac, which was that spontaneous writing could be embarrassing. . . The cure for that is to write things down which you will not publish and which you won’t show people. To write secretly. . . so you can actually be free to say anything you want. . .   —Allen Ginsberg, City Lights Anthology, 1974.

And, in the meantime, swagger on.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Blue, Green,  and Brown), 1952
Oil on canvas
(Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon)

Wider Connections

“Abstract Expessionism: When Art Became Larger Than Life”
John Lahr—“Escape Artist:Mark Rothko on Stage”

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