No Thinking Allowed
It took as long as it took
NO THINKING ALLOWED
This month’s installment is so named because I remember coming across those three words in a journal from several years back, writ large in black ink-brush. Seems I’ve always been trying to get out of my head, with limited success. I tried in vain to find those words again and take a picture of them for today’s Feed the Monster, but do you think I could find them again? No. Instead I used the image above, which is a rare example from a couple of years ago of drawing something spontaneously—without thinking—and really wishing I could pull that off every time.
Don’t get me wrong—thinking saved my ass, growing up. I was determined not to passively inherit unhappiness, so I wrote in my journal and thought long and hard about what I saw, what my feelings meant, and where they were coming from. For years. To quote Joan Didion, “I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means.” I credit writing with liberating me and making me who I am. I also benefited from the knowledge and experience of a few counsellors along the way, making use of their guidance and following their signposts when they made sense to me. I sought out and read books that I thought might help, and sometimes they did. All of these things involved thinking.
But thinking can get in the way when I rely on it exclusively, and believing my own thoughts isn’t always advisable. In this case—regarding art-making—thinking has gotten in my way many a time. Thinking about what my artwork will end up looking like, thinking about how it will be received, thinking about how it should be according to various stale preconceived notions. Thinking of all the reasons it could be potentially “good”. Or not.
I always wanted to make art without thinking so damn much, but I could never figure out how to turn my brain off. I would tell myself I needed to “play” more, and that no-one needed to see these attempts if they didn’t work out. As I wrote here a year ago: “I want to allow myself to paint things that are unfinished, ugly, stupid, experimental, or without aim. Without worrying about what it will look like”. But I was always a slave to the conviction that the art had to be good even if it was for my eyes only.
Somehow, I was able to bypass my regulatory brain while making the wall piece below. Definitely, if I’d thought about this one too long, I’d have talked myself out of it! This piece is my first foray into the mother-daughter aspect of the equation with regards to this project, and it was a little scary. What would people think? How would my family feel? I was buoyed by the deeply personal work I’ve watched other people put out into the world, such as Glenn Head, a comics artist I follow on Instagram whose recent graphic memoir Chartwell Manor is about the sexual abuse he endured as a teen at a boarding school in New Jersey (I haven’t read it yet, but I have it on order from Legends Comics and Books). Certainly, if he can brave that kind of exposure, telling my story ought to be a cake-walk.
I’m paraphrasing, but I read where Samuel T. Herring of the band Future Islands said something like, “I’m out there being vulnerable so you (the audience) don’t have to”. That struck me, at the time with respect to my own conflicted feelings about singing and performance. But it’s the same with art-making or storytelling: it can be a gift to lay bare your naked neck to the guillotine, so to speak. Others see themselves in you—they live through you temporarily—and it can offer solace and understanding. It can help normalize what might feel abnormal, and help give others permission to also be vulnerable (AF!)
As mentioned in last month’s installment of Feed the Monster, I purposely used a bamboo brush because I’m unable to paint well with it, in that way preventing myself from getting caught up in making things look “good”. In retrospect, I suspect I’ve discovered a significant cheat for myself, because using that bamboo brush allowed me to just GO. Go with what I felt came next, go without overthinking it. Go with what the piece was calling for, as opposed to what I thought it should be. I’m very thankful that I was able to do this, because although I can’t say whether or not it’s “good art”, I ended up crossing into uncharted territory and producing something wholly new… for me. I hope I can continue to keep my focus on what the work demands, and trust that it knows what it’s doing.
To re-cap: I’m working on a project called Life’s Work: A Visual Memoir, about my mother’s dementia and how my difficult relationship with her informed the way I dealt with that. So far the project is comprised of writing, paintings, and graphic-novel-style comics. While I do hope to produce a book of the work, I hesitate to call it a graphic memoir because there will be plenty of other elements involved—photos and journal excerpts as well. Should we throw in some report cards from school as well? NO.
There will be an exhibit of the work at the Victoria Arts Council in June of 2022. It was originally meant to take place in October 2021 but for various reasons it got bumped, and I’m glad.
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