Musings on Artistic Mental Laws

Woke up this morning, did the usual waking-and-checking-email-and-coffee ritual. Pulled up a blank page of Painter. Did three roughs of almost scary gearworld pieces–nude women with masks and gear tattoos, in crevices and alcoves in the concrete.

Said, “Hmm, those are kinda interesting.”

Flipped open a new page and did a sketch of the female follow-up to “Valley of the Wang” again featuring our horrified lizard hero. Snickered a bit.

Some days I feel like the bastard child of Goya and Beatrix Potter.*

The thing is, there’s no mental switch. It’s not like one side or the other is a mental indulgence. My brain is as likely to spit out cuddly slugs and the lizards who love ’em as concrete craziness, and vice versa. People tell me that they like the funny stuff, or the cute stuff, or that they prefer the dark stuff, but there’s no division in my brain–it’s all just The Stuff. I don’t have to be in a particular mood. There are sketches of gearworld paintings that include puffins with umbrellas, and quiet, grim little hooded mice in blindfolds that are starting to get almost creepy.

And this is why I don’t really buy into what some people have told me–that the gearworld paintings are real art (with the implication that the other stuff isn’t.) If any of it is, all of it must be, because it all happens the same way. If I had to go into some kind of trance and pop in the Tool CDs and dim the lights and do an hour of tai chi, then I could see it, but…no. It just wanders out when its in the mood, interspersed with horrified lizards and chicken doomsayers. In my brain, the gearworld is a place, and I am not allowed to do things that don’t fit there, but these arbitrary rules apply to other things as well. Some things just don’t fit.

I am reminded at this point, of my hero, James Christiansen. He was doing a painting of a man with a pet scallion on a leash, and couldn’t find a scallion. His wife suggested a green onion. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said, “nobody’d have a green onion for a pet.”

I understand this perfectly. Lots of people suggested on the Lurking Turnip that brussels sprouts were scarier than turnips, but feh, brussels sprouts don’t lurk. (They skulk. They will also stampede if you get enough of them. But they’re not lurkers. They don’t have the patience for it.) It’s not just veggies. The world inside the artist’s head looks completely random and made up from the outside, but in fact there are very strict and often arbitrary laws. It’s just that the gearworld seems to have a lot more of ’em than the lizards, and it takes a lot longer to tease a painting out past the building codes. Navigating the laws of the lizard world is like wandering through a field with the occasional big rock in it. Navigating the gearworld laws is like navigating the gearworld itself–labryinthine, full of dead ends and blind corners and false leads.

Maybe real art is defined by whatever you manage to weasel out between increasingly restrictive mental laws of what fits here. Maybe that’s why commissions are so hard–they’re based on someone else’s mental laws, and some part of our brain is going “Feh! That’s not how it works!”

Maybe I should shut up and go paint.

* Not to rank myself up there with either of ’em, mind you. I could never paint “Saturn Devouring His Children” if I lived to be a thousand. That’s the only painting that’s ever stopped me dead in my tracks while my spleen kept right on going. The first time I saw it–in the school library, in a fairly small reproduction–I felt like I was on a fast elevator and my stomach had dropped out. One of these days, I’d like to see the thing in person, which would probably be the closest I’d come to an artistic religious experience. Beatrix Potter, if I live long enough, I might concievably have a remote shot at, but Goya’s just plain outta my league. But I’m cool with that.

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