A lot of my artist friends are having a very hard time in this current economic climate. Just this week there were many different versions of the same “keep the faith” sentiment posted on facebook and words of encouragement meant to help us navigate our way through our financial struggle–be it age old or not. (A question to ponder. Who will be the patrons in this new economic reality if the art market continues to retract? Many of my buyers are from the former middle class.) It has been a considerable challenge for us all to stay true to artistic intent and not bow to market pressures– as it is ever more tempting to paint that which will sell in order to subsist. And what sells, I’ve been told many times over, are happy paintings.
A google search of “happy paintings” found nary a comparison to my work. Primary colors, illustrative, simplistic subject matter. Shallow (skimmable) and entertaining and sellable. My quiet, contemplative, “spiritual”, layered works are not found in this arena.
Rilke frequently wrote about the importance of recognizing and trusting our other emotion. Here from his Letters to a Young Poet.
Consider whether great changes have not happened deep inside your being in times when you were sad…If only we could see a little farther than our knowledge reaches and a little beyond the borders of our intuition, we might perhaps bear our sorrows more trustingly than we do our joys. For they are the moments when something new enters us, something unknown. Our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, they take a step back, a stillness arises, and the new thing, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.
An artist whose melancholic works I greatly admire (and yes, would purchase if I could), Jake Berthot, creates just such transformative stillness in his works. Here by Gregory Orr at VQR.
Instead of the viewer’s gaze skimming off the surface like a skipped stone as in so much contemporary painting, Jake Berthot’s paintings hold you—stop you and engage you, stir you and disturb you. When you stand in front of one of Berthot’s recent paintings, you immediately become aware of depths in the painting and you are drawn out into them, feel some part of yourself emptying into them. But then the mysterious mutuality of reverie takes hold: into your newly created emptiness, something flows from the painting. And gradually, steadily, the experience of gazing at the canvas becomes a reciprocal emptying-out and filling, an ebb and flow. Depth speaks to depth. And when at last, after successive, calm, reciprocal emptyings and fillings, you break the spell of the encounter, you emerge changed in some quiet but definite way.