Only as I was rereading this blog as a part of my “slow review” of 2016 did I notice its relentless obsession with the whys and wherefores of painting, with “to paint or not to paint?”: personal, inner struggles thinly disguised (from myself most of all, I guess) as attempts to tell something to the readers.
There is this oft-cited idea from Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet”, about living the questions. He writes:
Do not search now for the answers which cannot be given you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answer.
It doesn’t actually mean that one will “find” the answer one day, I think; it rather means that living is the answer (or perhaps is becoming the answer). There may not be any other answer after all.
Marina Tsvetaeva, in “Art in the light of conscience”, writes that Art is answers without questions; the unquestionable, undeniable givenness of answers. All our art — as opposed to Art as a force of nature — is in being able to juxtapose our own question to each answer quickly enough, while the answer hasn’t evaporated yet. This onslaught of answers on you is what people call inspiration, she says. (I don’t put quotation marks here, although I translate almost word by word, because her prose is almost like poetry, its fragrance is inevitably lost in translation, and could only be possibly brought back by a poet of the same — formidable — calibre).
Questions without answers, and answers without questions — that’s how my own journal for 2016 looks in review: a continual mismatch between questions I struggled to find answers to, and an onslaught of answers to which I failed to ask questions promptly enough (perhaps because I was so consumed with the other questions). A whole year of missed inspiration.
It took this slow rereading of my journal to see this pattern, these two streams moving at strikingly different speeds: a slow stream of questions without answers; a breathtakingly rapid stream of answers without questions.
But even that is not quite true: there was an overlap between questions and answers, but questions were invariably too late for the feast. The question would appear after its answer has evaporated, dissolved into thin air (exactly as Tsvetaeva warns) — even in spite of dutiful daily journaling!
The problem is, of course, this: when you start to contemplate a difficult question, your own journal from the previous month is about the last place you would look for the answer, isn’t it? In Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy”, they figured out that the ultimate meaning of life is “42” — but even if you’ve written down “It’s 42” in your journal one day, you wouldn’t really remember this if you decide to search for the ultimate meaning of life a couple of weeks later… The answer has evaporated.
As for the why of painting, there is probably no answer except living it after all: either it is, or it is not. There is no why.
At some point in the early years of this century I returned to painting after about twenty years of living almost completely within the confines of mind and language, in an inherently futile — even if, for a time, thrilling — quest to understand and describe language with language (also known as “linguistics”). This return to painting was the beginning of my liberation from the prison of my mind, a slow re-connection with the primordial silence and unity of life.
This wasn’t my mind’s intention when it experienced making the decision to return to painting; it had not the slightest inkling where this path would take me. If only I knew that that’s how it goes when I was plunging into the debut… — wrote Boris Pasternak. For me, this plunge felt slow, seemingly deliberate — as though the underlying vitality, the underground flow of life in me, was cautiously tasting a new dish, and then wanting more and more of it… Like a scared child stepping into a river to try and swim after a long winter, I didn’t really know why I wanted it so badly. This is probably the same why as the why of everything in nature: the mysterious inner impulse for growth, evolution, transformation.
And this, as I’ve come to understand, is absolutely not the question I was really obsessed with. What I couldn’t understand is whether (and if yes, how) this undeniable impulse — experienced as it was as something deeply inward, personal — might possibly “fit” into a larger picture, into the grand scheme of things; whether it could possibly have a part to play in the evolution of human consciousness as a whole. The waves of this impulse were beating against the rocky shores of pre-defined, socially established answers to this question, neither of which felt right — even though (or perhaps because) I made several honest attempts to live the question, to try on all these social roles (like “artist”, “teacher”, “blogger”).
The stream of answers without questions recorded in my journal has been doing its best to direct me towards the right questions, and now it’s time for me to listen.