When an Artist shares her Thoughts / by Jeannine Cook

A wonderful friend suggested I might enjoy reading "Daybook, the Journal of an Artist" by Anne Truitt, so I found a copy of this 1982 book and have been delighting in it ever since.  There are so many passages to make me think and so many that resonate with my own experience as an artist.

One of the early journal entries, on 14th July, 1974, which has greatly interested me is about Truitt's drawings that she was doing while at Yaddo. I quote, "... I have now started a series of drawings I am calling Stone South.  These are pencil and white paint, very spare attempts to catch the threshold of consciousness, the point at which the abstract nature of events becomes perceptible.  This comes down to the placement of interval: lines meeting and not meeting as close as the force of their lengths will allow; a metaphor for the virtually imperceptible ways in which our lives turn, critical turns of change determined by interval."

Stone South 3, 1974, acrylic on paper, 22 x 30",  (Image courtesy of the artist, Anne Truitt)

Stone South 3, 1974, acrylic on paper, 22 x 30",  (Image courtesy of the artist, Anne Truitt)

"...The placement of interval" makes me think of synapses and all the amazing things that happen in our brains in those intervals when a nerve cell or neuron passes an electrical or chemical signal to another neuron or to a specific target cell. Synapses or intervals in life can lead to incredible things happening; events, insights, meetings, reactions that are unforeseen and that can only happen if we are flowing with events and not forcing our will on the unfolding of life around us.  Not passivity, but active participation and acceptance of whatever is unfolding, in that interval, that pause, and intake of breath which we have all experienced. 

In other words, Anne Truitt's statement makes me reflect on the need to be flexible, open, sensitive to all the subtleties of time, space, rhythm that inform us when we are trying to create art. Being in tune with what is happening around one and inside one as an artist when each of us works is often difficult.  There are a thousand distractions.  One needs to isolate oneself as much as possible, turn off the mobile and ignore all the other insistences of daily life.

Yet to distil events and experiences to their ultimate abstract essence requires a solitude and peace that perhaps seldom comes except if one goes to somewhere like Yaddo or another artist retreat or residency. Self-discipline in daily life also helps in the wider world, since in any case, being an artist is essentially solitary.  Nonetheless, for those moments when the "abstract nature of events becomes perceptible" to happen, I know from experience that you have to still your inner self and almost empty it of daily concerns. 

Those magical insights or break-throughs in art happen in the quiet and unexpected moments, when really you are not thinking as such, when you are doing something 'mindless" like ironing or drowsing just before sleep or upon waking.  Those are the enriching ways that the metaphors of life crystallise for us into lines, shapes, colours.... not necessarily meeting, but always activated. How to convey in visual terms those tensions, those insights, those perceptions that make an artist's life vibrate? 

Anne Truitt chose the metaphor of lines that do not meet, that are spaced specifically according to her sensibilities and visual language.  Others can use different means to paint, draw, sculpt, create their interpretation of those subtle but all important intervals we all know exist for us as artists.

Ultimately, each of us as artists has to believe in our inner voice and perceptions.  We have to follow an almost magical thread where it leads in those twists and turns of life that dictate what we create as art.