“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”
I’ve just finished painting the first part of this quote from the choreographer Martha Graham on the window of the new artspace at 35 Chapel Walk.
As I painted on the inside of the glass then people would stop and watch from the other side as if I were an exhibit in a zoo. The process felt like I was offering the words as a blessing for the city.
The idea of the ‘queer divine dissatisfaction’ that she identifies resonates with the yearning that I wrote about in the previous post. An awe-full, joyful, overwhelming sadness and longing for something beyond.
I can feel it in the process of painting. Each piece of work feels a step along the journey but at the end, after the final brushstroke I step back and want to move onto the next thing, feeling that new doorways and new possibilities have opened up that I am compelled to explore deeper and further. No matter how good or bad the final painting is I always get a sense that there must be more, more to discover, more to create. Here the creative and spiritual journeys are in parallel. There is no arriving only a continual longing to move towards the ineffable that calls us: the ‘queer, divine, dissatisfaction’ that unsettles us from our stupor and prevents us from staying where we are.
Graham claims that this unrest is what makes artists more alive than others. I would say that it’s what separates those of us who are alive from those who are simply content to remain at rest in whatever rut the tides of life have washed us into. This isn’t just about artists; it’s about what it means to be fully alive and to be fully human. Anything less is a capitulation to the ever so tempting and ever so comforting glittering, plastic façade of banality.