Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Nature of Influence

For some reason, I'm really struggling with the third day of this five day Art Challenge to basically create, post, ruminate, and reflect on all things artistic. Maybe a part of the a struggle is that my blood is still in my legs from today's long ride on the CompuTrainer or the fact that (as I mentioned in the past from yesterday) that I am not producing work to display, explain, reflect and pontificate about at length. 

So... what to do?

For whatever reason (and I'm not even going to attempt to explain the strange inner workings of my brain) I fell onto the subject of influence because what would art be-- or what would anything be, really-- if not for inspiration, interaction and the product that is a result of those two things? 


Poet T.S. Eliot and critic Harold Bloom both wrote extensively about the importance-- or, necessity-- of influence in the literary arts. It is unarguably equally important to the visual and musical arts as well. But as I sit here at my desk after a long ride (and struggling to find the right words and references in this dusty frame of mind) I can't help but wonder if we aren't always creatures of influence in nearly every facet of our lives.  

Americans, typically, prefer to inhabit the discourse of individualism, the "self-made-man", the working up from your bootstraps and all of that-- which is fine, of course. But I think there is a certain element of our beings that is always social-- that is always gleaning information from past or present "outside sources"-- that leads me to believe you can't ever be fully separate from others no matter how hard you try. Even to be a hermit, one delves into the idea of a hermit which recalls a body of literature, a history, a psychological and/or sociological "type", a set of moral, ethical and (perhaps) spiritual values... I think you get the point. 

Despite the connections made more easy with technology (social media outlets, smart phones) I still think there is something necessarily "connected" about existence. You are never without the things you've seen and read; never without the inspiration (or angst) that comes from knowing others have come before you, performed or lived a certain way, thought certain things, described a landscape in one way or another, fought and died on a battlefield and how not only the ground is hallow but the meaning of the memory and the way in which a culture subscribes to the value of those past actions, is. 

Enter: Art.  

Even though I have artistic people in my life-- in my family, even-- if you were to ask me which artist has influenced me the most, I would answer: Chuck Close.  I don't know him personally and have only seen one of his works in person and yet  his work speaks to me on an aesthetic as well as a philosophic level. 

For those of you who don't know his work, I would urge you to look him up. Read his bio. Watch the evolution of the production of his hands. I can only say that the evolution from photorealist to-- well, postmodern cubist? (I'm trying to use my own limited terminology here and not borrow that of art critics so forgive me) is inspiring. 

When his body began to fail, he could no longer create the large format realistic portraits that had formed the foundation of his careers as an artist. While this might seem like a real impediment to most people, Close decided to change his work to fit his physical condition. And in so doing, he created a new kind of "portraiture"-- one that, ultimately, contains a more authentic feel and a more intimate understanding of shadow, light and color. 

His work is now composed of squares. From a considerable distance, it appears as though he is still panting portraits. 

Chuck Close's work from afar...
Up close,  though, it is patterns, lines, squares. 

And this is what it looks like "up close" so to speak. 

As an athlete, I admire his ability to find a solution in a situation where most people would simply give up and do something else. As a writer, I am fascinated by the solution he found: one in which a handicap was not a handicap but instead a method to produce something new and interesting. 


And what has this to do with me? 

Sometimes (or, a lot of the time, especially recently) training for the Ironman feels like a journey of discovering my weak spots-- my faults. There are days I am sore and tired; there are days I don't want to swim at 5:30 am or run during my lunch break at work or ride my bike indoors. But those are the most important days: I watch the "masters' of this sport and I am inspired, constantly, by their dedication. I am inspired by the people I train with (in the pool, on the bike, in the gym, on the road) and I'm not sure I would be able to put in the volume I do without them. 

They are the squares which form the self-portrait of me, writ. Ironman.  Come June 28th in Coeur d'Alene, I really hope I will be able to express how grateful I am to each and every one of them.

No comments: