Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Surrendering to the Sublime; Part One

Joan Snyder; Seed Catchers, 2007, Oil, acrylic,
berries, paper mache, burlap on canvas, 36 x 48"

There is this place. It is as light or as dark as you make it. Call it the glass filled half way. Always filled half way. That is the point. Call it half full, half empty. Your choice. You can look for the light until you're blue in the face. You can measure forever to see if the glass is half full or half empty. Won't make any difference. I heard this Rabbi tell a story on television to illustrate a point: when a boy called up to God and asked why God wasn't taking care of all the terrible things in the world, God said that he had, he said: "I sent you." There is this place. Welcome to the inner life.

This is a rich place. This interior space; it is at once the spiritual, emotional, intellectual/mental, intuitive, psychological domain of the self and of all selves; the shared self. The soul. Everyone has one. It is the place that the outer world speaks to, if we let it, if we listen. We probably aren't listening enough. This is the place that among so many things, art speaks to.  Some artists look to and at this place, and what they do in response is what their art becomes. Some artists live in this place. Some artists seek it.  Joan Snyder seems to go back and forth. 

I've admired her paintings for about twenty years now, and sometimes the relationship, my relationship to her work, takes different turns. I felt the same way about the work of her friend, Porfirio DiDonna. This is to be expected. I feel it in myself, in my own work. I see the journey. I see the ups and downs. The inner life(inner light) is not the same as the sublime. All inner life is not sublime and all that is sublime is not inner life. Where they intersect, however, they are one. Where they intersect, they are inner LIGHT!

I'm just not sure that the inner life is something you seek. I could be wrong.  If you do you become a seeker, it is like the premise of the law of attraction; you just get a lot of seeking. I believe that the inner life, the sublime, is something that is always there. We don't need to seek it, or talk about seeking it; we just need to stop fighting, to stop being afraid, to just be, to just surrender. When people say that they are looking for "peace," we understand what this means; that there is no peace. 

These new paintings by Joan Snyder strike me, literally, as mostly about seeking and less about the other thing. But the show at the Nielsen Gallery in Boston is entitled "and seeking the sublime." It gives me no pleasure to say this, quite the contrary.  There is no way in my mind, however, that anyone could lie about this. Ignore this. It is so painfully obvious. The paintings rub our noses in something else; and that stuff we smell is her pain. Welcome to Joan Snyder's garden, an essentially dark and savage beauty filled with anger and sadness. Suffice it to say that these are not her "pretty(a term Resnick threw at me to dismiss his paintings from the Fifties--clearly he didn't think the inner life was a pretty place, and he killed himself to prove it)" paintings. But maybe she didn't name the show. Maybe she let the gallery or whoever wrote the catalog make their pitch.

Ordinarily I would refuse to say anything. Whatever Snyder's struggles are, they are hers, and she is entitled to them. Bless her for them. That is understood. I would never argue with her paintings, or her pain. She has my complete sympathy and understanding. 

What I can argue about is this bit of spin. Seeking the sublime. Reminds me of the idea of trying. If someone says: I tried to save so and so. What that tells us is that they didn't save so and so. That they failed. And that is what they should have said. Don't try to score points by talking about trying. In the words of the moment: don't put "lipstick on a pig."

Seeking the sublime. How about "struggling" with the sublime. What this tells us is that she hasn't found it, and we won't either when we turn to her new paintings. What we will find instead is gaping wounds. Lots of them. The show would have been more aptly titled Gaping Wounds(My Stigmata by I. M. Bleiding?). Then we would know what we were in for. We could decide if we were up for that. We could decide not to go. We wouldn't be tricked into thinking that we would be in for THE SUBLIME. I have to add that I am now one of those recovering Catholics who finds the image of the Crucifix macabre, so that could be where we part ways. Sorry. More drawn to the Mother Mary. I think Bernini had it right with St Theresa.

I don't need to go to see Joan Snyder's work to find the sublime. I have some works of hers in my home, and I find them plenty sublime enough for me. I own my own responsibility anyway where the sublime is concerned. So I will look at these paintings in greater depth. I will feel their pain, the depth of their pain, and her pain. I will let them be. I will surrender to them. If going through the pain... ok, ok... so be it. That is the inner life. And that just might actually be sublime.