On The Importance of Effort

Figure at a Cliff's Edge

Struggle, pain, disharmony.
Why are these essential for the creative project?
Or is this just the myth of the tortured artist?
IS it a myth?
Why shouldn’t the artist live in a constant state of harmony?

Because, perhaps, harmony over time becomes banal, uninspiring.
We have to be continually shaken up to remain pure, focused, relevant.
Comfort, ultimately, becomes the devil’s work—
So we have to accept a certain amount of discomfort into our life.
It will come anyway—there’s no keeping it out.
And the oyster that accepts the irritating grit
Around which it makes a pearl, would agree, if it could
That our best creations are a coping strategy—
A way of dealing with emptiness and lack of meaning.

Art tells the truth. It looks our predicament in the face and paints it.
It feels the pain of age and decay moving through the body and dances it out with
A violet defiance;
It hears the cosmic emptiness and silence and
Fills it with a symphony.

“Sometimes I wonder,” said Graham Green,
“How all those who do not write, compose or paint
can escape the madness which is inherent in the human situation.”
Well put.

But we can’t ALL be artists. Or can we?
How many people would really want to be that sensitive, that strained
always on the edge, with no barriers or defenses against what
Is really going on?

Not many. And yet, the art schools are full,
More kids want to be “Creatives” than ever before.
Why? Because it looks cool; it’s stylish? Not at all.
To really go into the creative lifestyle is to lose touch with all that.
You have to find it in a new way. You have to find a new Cool, a new Hip
that nobody ever thought of before. But to find it you have to cross a large dark water,
You have to sail into the unknown and let go of all comfort, all serenity,
all consolation.

What love you have must be kept inside as fuel for the crossing. And therefore
if you do not have a great freight of love from childhood
or from that one teacher who believed in you,
you might well get lost and find yourself washed up with all the
other failed “Creatives”.

And yet to have tried and failed to make the crossing
is better than never having tried at all.
Everyone could learn from at least TRYING
to be an artist, trying to hear their own particular song,
their own particular meaning in the face of the great banality.

As long as the sun is there, we will keep growing towards it.
We will go as far as we can go before gravity gets the better of us,
And in a last gasp of failure and exultation we release our fruits, our pollen,
our message, to the spaces:
Keep trying, for gods sake keep trying…



I have been doing a lot of drawing lately; of the sex worker subjects I am working on in Earls Court; of the Nude; and of myself in the studio.

What impresses me again and again is how difficult drawing is. I have been doing it all my professional life, and yet it still feels like every new drawing is a different way up the mountain—attempting to capture all that is there in reality—which is momentous.

I suppose that is the hump of disappointment we always have to get over in drawing: the overflowing bounty of information our sense of sight is giving us as compared to the tiny amount of that information we are actually managing to impart to the paper. When you think about it: the conversion of this highly complex act of perceiving into the basic motor apparatus of nerves and ligaments and tendons gently flexing the hand, you’re left in awe of the activity itself. Imagine a higher primate producing a likeness of another primate with a charcoal-burnt twig. It would be an earth-shattering event.

So drawing well is really a miraculous act, and when it is happening, you feel it—you feel grace flowing through you as you do when you are dancing and really feeling it. It’s more than that, in fact:—a quiet ecstasy that shouldn’t disturb the act itself—because if you become too self-conscious, the “I am drawing well” voice chimes in and ruins everything. There is effort, there is extreme attention, but there is no straining. That leads to trembling and anxiety, which unsteadies both pencil and perception.

The gift of drawing is selfless. Self-judgment and criticism shut it down. Only by forgetting myself can I truly see the other. I am relaxed, I am enjoying myself, I am letting this activity happen of its own accord. There’s a natural rhythm of observation in tandem with the scratching pencil. The eyes going back-and-forth from distance to near distance–it’s a dance with the Other, the object, the observable, and the brain seems to know it so well, as if drawing is something it has always done, always wanted to do, from time immemorial.

So here’s to the beauty of drawing; the difficulty, the discovery, the simplicity of it. An activity which always leaves me refreshed and energized, and more in touch with being.