May 31, 2016
Oh, I forgot..there’s something I need to describe before I go on to anything else.
I had never been to school. My first day of kindergarten was where my education started. My parents said I had to go. Mom drove the car over with me in the back seat.
I knew right away something was up - big changes, the beginning of my “development” as a person, as an artist. Mom told me I’d like it, but I wasn’t at all sure. Maybe I didn’t want to be taught. Maybe I liked relying on what I already knew. Maybe I liked hangin’ a little loose.
When we pulled up in front of the long, squat building, Mom got out and went back to open the side rear-door and let me out. When she did, I scooted to the far side of the seat, crying out “ I don’t want to go!” Mom just closed the door she was standing at and went around to the side I had scooted to. When she did, I just scooted back again to the opposite side. She lovingly but firmly told me that this new experience was unavoidable, and that everything would be all right, that I was going like school.The hectic back-and-forth action went on for awhile, but eventually she got ahold of me and led me inside.
Beyond arriving on that first day, I have only vague memories of kindergarten. One was when my teacher punished me for being bad. I don’t remember what the infraction was. But the idea forcibly impressed upon my young mind was that I had done something wrong. The sensation was for the most part unfamiliar to me. My parents favored the encouragement method of child-raising, and I’m glad. They rarely disciplined me. In general, life unfolded for me like a flower. I discovered wonderful new things every day. Good and bad were not things which I had to deal with until I went to school, where I was taught to discriminate between things, and to judge. In school I also learned what it was like to BE judged.
“You can play at home, Danny. Here at school we learn how to make good choices. You want to learn how to be good, don’t you?”
So, anyhow, even though I don’t remember what I did to deserve it, my teacher’s form of discipline was to make me sit under my desk for awhile, and think about what I’d done. Whatever I’d done, it was bad as opposed to good behavior.
Another memory I have is when my teacher told my mother that she thought I might have mental problems. It came about like this..
The teacher gave out paper to all the kids and said “Today we’re going to PAINT!”
She passed out paper, tempera paint and brushes. Every child got busy. But what was little Danny doing? I was busy brushing red paint over the entire surface of the paper, to my teacher’s unspoken abject consternation. Does little Danny have problems in his head?
When the teacher contacted my parents and voiced her concerns, they must’ve been startled at first by her serious tone, until she told them them what happened. I hope they laughed. Mom and Dad I mean. They must’ve at least told my teacher there was an explanation for this.
You see, I had very recently done some painting with my father. He let me help him paint the picket fence in front of our house. We painted it solid red! I watched him and just did what he did, brushing all the surfaces entirely red. When my teacher said we were going to “paint,” I thought I knew exactly what she was talking about. I didn’t need to discriminate about nothin’! It must’ve been disturbing for my parents when they listened to her assessment of the situation. She thought a solid-red painting indicated repressed anxiety, sublimated anger, or something like that. After all, she was a teacher, and part of her job was to make these kind of assessments.
But I think little Danny already knew in his knower what painting was. I think maybe my teacher lost sight of what it was somewhere along life’s way.
Painting is something total. It’s an immersive act..and it’s something you do with your Father.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m aware of the facts. Before I went to school, before I learned better, it was still possible for me to be blissfully unaware of these painful parameters. But it’s too late for me now. I’m educated.
Anyone who becomes an artist knows this. Anyone who tries to bring forth the new, to make things that have never been seen, heard, or read before is going to get a stiff taste of the tragic nature of creativeness.
The created thing - no sooner is it made than it falls short somehow - falls short of the artist’s original conception, and of course, of other peoples’ ideas as to what art is or should be. As soon as something is made it enters the realm of objects. It exists only in relation to other things, therefore it is immediately subject to categorical assessment. Where does this fit into the scheme of things?
Every created piece has limits, defining characteristics. Even abstraction does. For the artist, each work must ultimately be satisfactorily realized within the limits which the evolving piece establishes for itself. It stands or falls relative to an original inspiration or idea. As it nears “completion” the creative process becomes a back-and-forth juggling match, between the motivating vision and the necessary “finality” of the realized piece. It should be reaching beyond itself, but it can only reach so far.
Music reaches farthest. It is closest to fathomless, limitless spirit. But even music, especially recorded music, enters the objective realm.
The creative effort is, in this world at least, this side of infinite freedom, constrained. It must do what it needs to do, be what it must be, within the limits established for it. And, of course, the work will be judged. An assessment must be made if this thing actually is what it ostensibly declares itself to be. Is it art? What kind of art is it? Is it good? If not, is it bad then? Maybe it’s just the product of an unstable mind, like my kindergarten teacher thought.
You see what started on that first day of kindergarten, Mom? I got educated, developed, got to learn about all these things. Wasn’t that great? I knew something was up.
Again, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to go back. I can’t go back. But I do still want to paint with my Father.
Notes on the vicissitudes of the creative life.