Fuel to the Fire

Posted on by Wess Foreman

I've been writing some on a new book about art---my take on it anyway---and I thought I'd post a section of it here. It's just a first stab at the topic and will probably change in its final form, if and when the project ever gets finished. Enjoy and please leave a comment if you have anything to add on the topic!


Fuel to the Fire

   When I stand at my easel and paint, I recall a simpler time. A time half-forgotten. When I paint, I remember what it was like to play, what it was like as a child to imagine worlds within worlds and to speak them into existence. To negotiate imaginary battles. To summon heroes. To build castles out of sand and place oneself on the ramparts yelling down to a plastic action figure in a friend’s hand: “Who goes there?!” To hear him reply in an altered voice, “It’s me!” To respond in turn with the inevitable question, “What’s the password?!” (and then the fantasy would be paused as we played twenty questions to resolve the issue)

    It’s not that when I paint I think about the details of my childhood—-I do not—-but it’s the essence of that time: echoes of a mind untethered, a discovering mind, a creative mind. When I paint, I am unburdened and set free of distraction and worry. I am an instrument of intuition. I am pulled out of time. I have come unstuck. The brush moves; it scrapes against the canvas, leaving behind a trail of paint—-all that is true but for one detail: I move the brush. The artist wields the power, makes the decisions, creates worlds within worlds and speaks them into existence. The artist is in charge.

    When I stand at my easel and paint, I often listen to music. I assume this is true of many artists in many different disciplines. Music has a way of pushing away the real world and redirecting the mind to a more creative space. I find that to be true. It’s not magic and it’s not altogether automatic, but it does seem to help. And any type of music will work, I’m sure. I don’t normally listen to country music, but I’m pretty sure if I played country music when I painted it would do the job just fine. I have tried classical music and I have tried music from the eighties as well as “oldies but goodies.” I have listened to entire albums from single bands—-Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, Radiohead, Beck—-and I have let the radio play down the top 40 hits while I’ve painted. It all seems to work just fine. However, in the interest of honesty and in full disclosure, I should tell you that I paint most of my paintings to angry music.

    There is something to be said for the raw passion and unbridled energy of punk and post-punk alternative music—-maybe sprinkled with a bit of metal and a bit of grunge and even a bit of post-ironic garage band thrown in the mix. I like it. I can nod my head to it. I can paint to it—-and I often do! Nothing beats a wall of discordant power chords fed through the right distortion pedals and tube amps complete with microphone feedback and lyrics belted out in bold abandon—-you can almost see the sweat spraying off the brow of the lead singer as she bounces to the frantic rhythm unconcerned with reality as she knows it. Nothing beats the isolation this creates as the raw energy is radiated out like some undiscovered thing that kindles the fire of creativity. It washes over me and passes right through me as I stand at my easel to paint. And I use this energy best I can. I channel it onto the canvas—-it becomes a rich landscape; it becomes a delicate flower; it becomes the face of a portrait; it becomes art. Art creating art.

    There is a bit of chaos to the music. There is something dangerous in it. An idea that goes against the grain. No, I do not subscribe to the idea of nihilism—-my paintings might be amoral but I am not—-but there is something primal to the energy that music can project (now I’m sounding all New Age-y). I guess I’ll just leave it there: music injects energy into creativity.