I would now like to address the role that isolation plays in the creative process. And I am particularly interested in the subject because a good number of the people in the creative fields thought it a death sentence for me to leave the fertile streets of New York City for the barren desert of Akron. Recently, a person from Los Angeles who I met in San Francisco, directly stated as much when she said that I was lucky to be from Akron, assuming that I had been born here but had escaped. Ironically, all the art that she had admiringly commented upon only moments earlier had all been conceived and executed in Akron. Probably more properly put, it had been conceived and executed because I was from…living and working in…Akron.
To begin the discussion of my isolation in to the suburban desert of Akron and the relationship of this fact to my creative process, I begin by stating that it is definitely an isolation and that I experience Akron as a creative desert. Some days, as the reality of both of these facts grows on me I grow so discontent with my situation and so irritated by both the personal isolation and the cultural isolation, that I want to scratch every last inch of flesh from my body. The energy stalks in me like the “tyger” in Blake’s famous poem from the Songs of Experience. It is a genuine discontent…a genuine sense of dislocation…a genuine hate for my circumstances and even for the self that sought out these circumstances so as to be able to paint. I begin to hate the very fact that I am an artist at all and begin to hate the cruel reality that I cannot see myself as anything else and so am doomed to the state of discontent.
So, wouldn’t the easy solution be to change this external circumstance and so rectify the inner discontent. The problem: my experience has been that I have never been as fruitful in my work…in terms of individual concepts for individual paintings…in terms of the progression from one concept to another in a single body of work or between bodies of work…in terms of the technical development and attentiveness across all of it. I blossomed in very real ways when I came to Akron, and I cannot ignore that reality. I cannot ignore that the unique crescendo of energy caused by the isolation has proven to be a source of great fruitfulness. I makes me stalk, back and forth, behind the bars of my cage. It makes me put all my attention into every brush stroke so as to hope to have some relief from the massive build-up of energy. And when it is all over, when the work is complete, I get to stare into that sun I mentioned at the end of the last post…to look at the splendor of the form of the work…and it all seems so worthwhile. And so, I do it again.
At some point in my experience of this process, I recalled a passage from a book by Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, that I had read some time before I moved back to Akron. It states: “Isolation by a secret results as a rule in an animation of the psychic atmosphere, as a substitute for loss of contact with other people. It causes an activation of the unconscious, and this produces something similar to the illusions and hallucinations that beset lonely wanderers in the desert, sea-farers, and saint. The mechanism of these phenomena can best be explained in terms of energy. Our normal relations to objects in the world at large are maintained by a certain expenditure of energy. If the relation to the object is cut off there is a ‘retention’ of energy, which then creates an equivalent substitute.” And so on…. Jung, I am just noticing as I type, even goes on in the next paragraph to refer directly to the famous apparitions of St. Anthony of Egypt. So, as Jung says, there is a retention of energy in the likes of wanderers in the desert, sea-farers and saints…and artists living in suburban Akron.
Jung opens another possibility when he makes reference to St. Anthony of Egypt. He takes as his source for the reference the amazing book by Flaubert, The Temptation of St. Anthony, and not the original hagiographical work by St. Athanasius. Why is this important? Flaubert was a creator. Athanasius was not. Flaubert understood the implications of isolation on the creative life. He famously stated that he wanted to be orderly and disciplined in his daily life so that he might be violent and original in his art. Akron creates the most orderly and disciplined life, and in so doing it creates violence within…not the kind of violence that seeks harm to others, but the kind of violence present when atoms collided at the beginning of the universe. Akron is order and discipline and boredom. Akron seeks to limit me in every way…to crush me. And in so doing, it liberates me…transforms me. And I hate it. And I see the value of it. So I just allow the discontent to wash over me like the titanic waves over a lighthouse. I just take it. And I want to scratch my skin off and gouge my eyes out and going running like a madmen until I can run no more. But I know that it will do no good. So I just stay here and take it and make art…better off for having ended up here in the desert that is Akron.