If you look at the post from March 25 when I just started this painting, and here you can see the work I did on it yesterday.
Especially because of social media, most of us only want to present our world, our art as achievements. But the truth is, making art is easily one of the most frustrating endeavors you can imagine taking on in your life. And if you're like me, self-defined as a writer (of plays and short stories), a photographer, and an artist, a term I use to catch all the other things I do when writer or photographer doesn't suffice, you're really setting yourself up for some hefty frustration and rejection. The successes I've had as an artist--and there have been some really good ones--pale so much in comparison to getting up every day and trying to make a piece of art, whether it's a written piece, visual, or a combination in the face of not just rejection or frustration, but actual failure as determined by me. I'm never going to be on Broadway, in the MOMA, or even some major literary press magazine. I'm an artist who every day uses creativity to make art or plant and maintain a garden because I simply don't know how to live any other way. Right now, the only person who I try to please is me, and many times that doesn't happen.
But griping or moaning, "whoa is me" is not why I'm writing this.
The picture above is a mixed-media piece I started working on this afternoon. I had an idea and I thought it was pretty clear-cut but things got out of hand and what I see above is something I would call a red-hot mess. You have to see where the painting wants to go, but you have to exert some control over it, too.
Last night a couple of writer friends were kind enough to give me feedback on a play I've written, and they pointed out what I feel is a pretty major flaw.
Later that night I laid awake in bed and thought about the play, and thought about three scenes that I can actually see as vertical ribbons, and I wondered if the solution didn't lie there. I know what I want to say in the play, and that's really what's important. I've been writing for so long and feel so comfortable doing it that I skip over frustration and go right into rolling up the sleeves and digging into the script.
Believe it or not, I will use the same process to try to "fix" this picture. When you hear a multidisciplinary artist say that everything is connected, believe them. I "see" a script exactly as I see this painting. Did you notice that I said there are three scenes that I can actually see as vertical ribbons. Those ribbons actually move, too, as if blown by the wind. And the same process of looking at elements and figuring our their role and how I can get them there is the same process for writing or for visual work. Weird, huh? Unless you've been seeing reality like this all your life.
But the language is different. Visual language is different from written or spoken language. (And for that reason is why I use text in my visual work: To give different meaning to words.)
All I know is right now I have to keep away from that painting. What I'll do is set it somewhere where I can see it, near me, for example, when I'm watching a movie. And we'll just take each other in. And I think something will come out that way.
The Dancing Bear is the title of one of my plays. The Dancing Bear is a person dressed in a bear costume. She wears it like we wear our own bodies, our own personas. You should stand clear of The Dancing Bear, because if you don't, who knows what you'll find out about yourself. (The truth hurts, doesn't it.) But then again, maybe it won't be so bad.
Genesis (triptych), Acrylic paint and graphite on three 12"x 16" boards; 2021.
I survived. It was that simple. I was spit out of a spiraling vortex where there was no consciousness of this reality, where cause and effect had no meaning or nothing else had meaning. Nothing had meaning, nothing had value, nothing was named. All that existed…was nothing.
All I could do was stay alive. Breathe in and breathe out. Pump blood through my veins. Give nourishment to my vital organs. I learned to kill with my bare hands and I learned to like it. I could fashion weapons from anything around me. A rock. A stick. My tears.
I survived. I resorted to cannibalism and I ate myself. I focused all of my energy on devising ways to kill, and in doing so, I realized that the more life I snuffed out, the safer I became. No other life became more important than my own.
John Greiner-Ferris is an artist in the Boston area. Sometimes he makes images. Sometimes he writes. Sometimes he does both.