“…No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others” ―Martha Graham
I have recently put a name to my pain, and that name is Flavia. Flavia is my inner art animal. She is my tormentor, and yet she is also in a constant state of torment herself. She is never happy, never satisfied, never comfortable. She is perpetually agitated and virtually nothing satisfies her.
I used to think that I enjoyed making art. But that has quite possibly never been the truth. I must make art, and it is something that comes naturally to me, but that does not mean that I enjoy it in any capacity. If I recall all of the artwork that I have ever created, for most of it, the process was fairly laborious and taxing, with the exception of photography. Photography, especially working in the darkroom, is satisfyingly joyful for me. But even within that joy, a vibe of anxious unrest always permeates the process. If a project is not going very well, or if a project is going too well, I feel an edge of strain lurking just beneath the surface. Within all things creative, there exists a disturbance inside of me, and that disturbance is Flavia. For me, there is truly no escape from suffering when it comes to art. It is just hard. And Flavia makes it so.
She does not feel a part of me, but rather like a foreigner from an exotic land, forced into exile against her will. It feels as though she was placed inside of me for the duration of my time here on Earth, yet neither one of us is very pleased about the arrangement. However, we both have a job to do—to share our creative endeavors with the world—and so we must find ways to work together. But it is never a fluid exchange and never very comfortable or pleasurable.
[This is one of my favorite paintings from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and for some reason, this is how I imagine dear Flavia.]
The Mad Dog, 1943, by Rufino Tamayo, Mexican, 1899 – 1991, Oil on canvas, 32 x 43 inches, Philadelphia Museum of Art, European Painting section, Accession Number: 1945-2-1, Gift of Mrs. Herbert Cameron Morris, 1945
FLAVIA AND THE ART-ANIMAL METAPHORIC RELATIONSHIP
Flavia functions like any other animal, but the ebb and flow of her comfort level is determined not by earthly means such as food, drink, exercise, etc.—since her being is made up of energy rather than matter—but by the state of our mutual creative flow. In order to explain this more fully, I will use material world descriptions and relate them to her energetic counterpart.
FOOD : INSPIRATION
Flavia’s stomach always hurts and she hates ingesting and digesting food, yet she must eat in order to survive; therefore, I constantly feed her, even though it makes her quite uncomfortable. (Her metaphorical food comes in the form of inspiration and visual splendor, such as beauty, awe, creativity, art, etc.). But whatever I give her, it is never enough, and even when I give her all that she is asking for, she is always overwhelmed and tense. She is miserable with, as well as without.
[First Person Perspective Addendum: Quite often, witnessing something beautiful actually feels emotionally agonizing for me. Sometimes, I see something so exquisite—this could be a work of art, something in nature, and/or anything in between—and I feel pain. Beauty hurts for all kinds of reasons. At times, I experience pain because I am on the outside of that beauty, looking in, and am sad that I cannot be closer to it. Sometimes, I feel pain because I believe I could never create something so beautiful, and that hurts like failure. And yet, if I go too long without beauty, without allowing it to permeate my soul, my brain, my ocular cavities, I feel bored, and empty, and dead. I am sensitive to all things visual. I feel beauty intensely when I am absorbing it, and experience an insufferable lack when I am living without. Also, unfortunately, once inspiration takes hold of me, I feel compelled to act on it, whether or not I have the energy, the means, or the desire to. It is just too painful for me not to, and this plagues me always.]
Here is a screen shot of my Pinterest Likes. I have hundreds of painfully beautiful images saved to this board, all of which, for me, invoke both The Agony and the Ecstasy (fantastic biographical novel about Michelangelo, by Irving Stone).
SLEEP : NOT CREATING
Sleep is another huge problem for Flavia. All she ever wants to do is sleep (sleeping for Flavia translates in the material world to avoiding creative endeavors), and yet she is in a constant state of insomnia-tic wretchedness. She curls up and arranges her body as comfortably as she can possibly manage in the small space that has been provided for her, yet she is always AWAKE. Her eyes are closed but her consciousness is unsettlingly alert. So, as much as she tries to drift into dream land, she is always present, always stirring, and consequently, always fatigued.
[First Person Perspective Addendum: No matter what I do, I feel tense with regards to my unwanted compulsion to create. When I am not creating, I feel like a sham, although at least during this period, I can resolve to sub-relax into a state of faux-peace, temporarily. However, once I am triggered by inspiration, I must create—I am not able to sleep peacefully or go about my day like a normal person if I do not. Yet, once inspired, I enter into the distressing spiral that is my creative process; because most of the time, it is quite strenuous for me to create. So, whether or not I am actively creating, I carry a sharp burden—sometimes subtle and sometimes acute—with me at all times.]
BARKING : THE ACT OF ART MAKING
Finally, Flavia must endure her most extreme level of strain and discomfort when she is barking (Flavia’s barking translates to the literal act of making art in the material world). Unfortunately, this besieged beast’s barks are spontaneous and cannot be controlled by neither she nor I. Worst of all, barking wounds her throat tremendously. She is only ever relieved of this ache in rare instances when her bark turns into song (genius art making that is effortless, and charged, and good, and easy), and her song only ever graces us and the world when the gods make it so. Neither of us ever know when this will happen, and even when it happens, this grace is short-lived. It can never be conjured, or recreated, or predicted. Therefore, all of the in-between times preluding and postluding song, are anguish.
[First Person Perspective Addendum: As I have mentioned before, creating is difficult for me. I do not paint pretty pictures to make myself happy or because the process is fun. Making art, for me, has mostly been about healing and releasing, which often hurt; yet this is the only way that my process seems to work. Occasionally, there are times when I create beautiful things that have less of a healing component, and more of an aesthetic focus; but I am such a perfectionist, I cannot really rest until I have it right, so the creative process for me is torture-laden—unless Flavia is singing, which happens once in a blue moon.]
Below are some examples of purely aesthetic projects requiring copious amount of arduous effort.
These Fairy Boxes were incredibly miniature in size (2” x 3”), so fashioning them was actually quite physically straining. Emotionally, they were stress-inducing as well. I was swept away with inspiration and was attempting to encapsulate the awe of nature and the magic of fairies within each little box—whether fairies are real or not makes no difference, because at the very least, the idea of Fae Folk is undeniably kick-ass—and getting the vibe of these petite items correct required a great amount of concentration, thoughtfulness, precision, and openness, all at once.
One of my favorite creations of all time, was also one of the most challenging to produce. This is another less-healing, more-aesthetic, abstract collage project; and yet, I recall experiencing the release of so many frustrating emotions during the process. It is all a blur really, but I know there were tears.
Collage 11, mixed media on paper, 11” x 15”, 2013 © Libby Saylor
As of now, after writing this post, the creative flow has moved through me, and Flavia is failingly attempting to sleep. Her stomach is already grumbling and her throat is throbbing from strain. Until next time…
To see more of my art work, visit www.libbysaylor.com