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Most people live in an Either/Or world. Take my friend Wanda [Not her real name. I mean, seriously: Wanda?): she talks to me about her life and all her problems, and it seems to me that all her agony stems from the fact that when she has to make a choice, she always frames it as an Either/Or situation. Either she has to decide to do (A), or she has to decide to do (B), and usually, both (A) and (B) suck and to make matters worse she is convinced that in addition to there being only two choices in life, there is also always a right decision and a wrong one.

But that's a Capricorn for you. We tend to see life as a dire situation. Good thing I have an Aquarian moon - it makes me a  little more fluid in times of cusp. [Note: Cusp. Stranger in a Strange Land allusion.] Honey, there are always (C) and (D) options, not to mention (E) to (Z) options, and in the long run, remember this: Everything Always Works Out.

A lot of creative people are also Either/Or people. Either they are writers, Or they are painters. Good thing I have that Aquarian moon — it makes me a little more fluid when it comes to deciding whether I’m a word-writing-girl or a picture-making-gal.

I’m ambi-bi-curiously-dextrous. I’m a writer:

And I’m a painter:

Which means that as a writer, I’m not a bad painter; and as a painter, I’m a fairly articulate writer.

And let me tell you, my writer-self has hardly any communication with my painter-self. This struck me particularly forcefully this past week, when I was in Atlantic City with Top Cat.

[By the way: I don't get out much. I watch a lot of TV. Reality TV, to be exact. So I get to thinking that the world I see on TV is the real world, where people are more or less symmetrical and ambulatory and are not taller than they are wide.  And then I go to Atlantic City, and walk amongst the living-flesh humans in the world and Good Lord...we are one homely-ass barely-bi-pedal fat-ass species. Oh, Sweet Jesus, if you could see us now you would not have thought we were worth 5 minutes of your time up on the cross, although that celibacy idea of yours was on the money. But I digress.]

We had finished breakfast and Top Cat had kissed me good-bye  so he could play poker at the Tropicana for 15 hours straight and I was walking back to our hotel room at Bally’s and I was strolling on the boardwalk, thinking as I always do, about how much I like Atlantic City (no, really. The beach is lovely and the side streets are a trip) and out of nowhere, without even being aware that I was thinking about it, I got a brilliant idea.

I had been stumped, blocked, sucked dry, bored, etc. about a certain page in my Damn France Book. It was one of those pages that, as a writer, I could leave blank for the time being, skipping past it in the narrative, hoping that I’d find a way to do something with it later. I don’t surrender to writer’s block easily, but this page had me stone-cold baffled. I had no idea how to do what I wanted to do (what needed to be done, narratively-speaking) and it bothered me, but after futzing with it for days I had to just leave it blank and move on.

And out of no where, on that walk on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, appropos of nothing, the solution to that awful blank page popped in my mind. It flooded my body like a shot of cocaine, if everything that I’ve read about cocaine gives me to believe that it’s like feeling that you are the most freaking inspired, brilliant, muse-lousy person in the world. OF COURSE I heard myself say to my self; OF COURSE that’s how I have to write that page!!!!!!!!!!!

Every writer I know, or have read about, has had this sudden, unbidden, miraculous moment of genius. It’s the reason why writers write: You just cannot believe how all of a freaking sudden you can pull an idea from the universe that makes you feel that YES, I have a reason for being on this Earth.

And as far as I know, painters sooooo  do not have this kind of communication with the universe.

No…us painters never have these moments of unforeseen collisions with the universal wisdom, with the Platonic ideal.

Painters have to scratch and claw and wrestle with ugliness and self-doubt and the world’s indifference and paint a thousand hideous pictures to earn one good canvas. I’ve never [myself] come across a single picture that “painted itself” the way some paragraphs seen to be channelled — dictated —  from the Higher Power. Nope. Doesn’t happen with visual artists. As far as I know.


I’m just saying.

So. I painted another version of the Loire Valley illustration of The Obligatory Proustian Moment that I wrote about on Friday:

This is as far as I’m going with this picture for the time being. I’m not sure what to do with this next (because, really, getting this far was a fluke of dipping the paint brush in the right amount of water and paint and getting a happy accident) but I’m going to get a color Xerox (trademark: I do all my color copies on a Xerox) and then futz around with some ideas I’m considering on the color xeroxes before I commit pigment to this original.

Because that’s what painters have to do: they have to try, try, try, try, and try again before they get it right. There’s no way a painter can “get” the picture, the way a writer can “get” the paragraph: the painter-mind doesn’t work the way the writer-mind does.

And, then, I turned my painting up-side-down:

And damned if I don’t kind of like this, too; see some possibilities in working the illustration from this side up.

And as far as I know, examining their work up-side-down for possibilities is something  that writers  don’t have to contend with.

Writers: Let me know! Have you had that experience of hearing the voice of a dictating angel? Have you ever tapped into the Higher Power that showed you a way out of your narrative dead-end? Had an idea that was so genius that you know it didn’t come from you – it came from the muse?

Painters: Have you ever?? Or, more realistically, how many times have you had to paint a picture, over and over, before you got it right? What keeps you at it — a close brush with genius, or pure cussedness? Are we that different from writers – SPECIAL, like; hardier, more contrary, much more annoyingly original — or what?

10 comments to The difference between writing and painting:

  • I’ve gotten that very feeling with collages and now I get it all the time with my new addiction…zentangles. I think you might scoff but seriously it’s the most fun, relaxing, and whatever the name for “that feeling” is. Maybe you’ll think its stupid but I can’t stop doing them. See some on my blog and then look up the official site on google, if I have gotten you curious. I’ll write to you more about it later.

  • P.S. I like the upside-down Azay-Le-Rideau painting.
    That’s my sister with the gray hair in the avatar.
    We have a blog together but now this picture is appearing on my comments. Don’t know why.

  • Nadine

    If you’re stuck on a verbal problem, turn it upside down by doing something non-verbal. Don’t know how put something into words? Dance. Go outside and prune the garden. Listen to Carmena Berana from the beginning. (I recommend the San Francisco Orchestra’s version.)

    If you’re stuck on a non-verbal problem like painting, do something verbal. Read a novel by P. G. Wodehouse. Write a letter. Watch a French movie with English subtitles. (I recommend “Le Divorce” because Thierry Lhermitte is in it.)

    Didn’t some Greek coin the work Eureka when he had an inspiration about something in the bath? Isaac Newton saw an apple fall and connected it to gravity. You solved your narrative’s riddle by getting out of the house.

    Change is good. It’s how we get our right-brain to communicate with our left-brain. NOW you’re using your whole brain and viola! Inspiration.

  • I would comment on the other stuff but I’m too busy laughing about this: “Good Lord…we are one homely-ass barely-bi-pedal fat-ass species.” Ah. Thanks. I needed that.

  • Deborah

    I once tried to have a writer vs painter conversation with a co-worker: he did watercolors; I wrote. I tried to describe to him that ah-ha, seeing-the-work-as-a-whole epiphany experience & asked him if that was the way he experienced painting. It was clear he didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, not even a little, so I let it drop and never broached the subject with anyone ever again. I feel so vindicated now.

  • As far as the either/or of painting and writing, both are creative pursuits and I don’t think I’d want to choose between them. Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.

  • Helen McHargue

    I wrote a poem once that was “dictated” to me from somewhere. It just came out. Never wrote poetry in my life. I keep waiting for it to happen again because I thought some creative plug had popped open and a flow would go. No such luck.

  • Shelley

    I used to get that poetry dictation thing too, like Helen. When I was in high school, phrases would just pop into my mind, and the whole poem would follow. It was wonderful and exciting whenever it happened.

    I too wish the creative flow would begin again…don’t know if all my years of left brain accounting and Excel spreadsheets are blocking the muse or what. I miss it, and keep hoping for a re-connection!

  • good advice, Nadine. I don’t have a thing to say. I am neither artsy or writey. You gals GO for it, tho…..I love Vivian’s blog.

  • As an artist, watercolourist, quilter, etc. I have to say that you are trying to hard as a painter. If it is that difficult for you to communicate with the universe, um, go about it in another way. Relax. I’ve never had to paint something over and over again to get it right. Actually, whenever I pick up my brush and look at my paper, the universe opens up for me immediately.

    But then again, I suck at writing. Just saying.


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