I make my little paintings. Some of them are big, size-wise, but they’re little in scope, in meaning. I call them “little” to try to take control of the situation. What situation? I want to make big paintings. I want to make paintings that matter. I don’t know yet what exactly I want about it: do I want to be the person who makes the big paintings, or do I want the big paintings to have been made? I know that both are things I want, but I don’t know what part burns at me more. I avoid the question.
I avoid a lot of things.
Like trying to make big paintings.
I don’t have any visions for them, anymore. It’s very hard to try when you don’t have a vision. It’s not impossible. Just hard. I hear great painters talk all the time about what they did when they made such and such a painting, and usually it’s that they did something hard. I want to avoid the hard work, though. I don’t want to want to avoid it, but I do want to.
I want a lot of things I don’t want to want.
I general I don’t want to want.
There are exceptions.
I do want to want to make big paintings, but I don’t know if I want it enough.
Here’s what used to happen when I thought I’d have a vision for a big painting: I’d start painting it, and then I’d look at it on paper, and it would seem stupid and clumsy. I wouldn’t know whether to blame the vision or the execution. I’m pretty decent at painting, I’ve studied for a decent number of years and I’m a quick learner, though I didn’t pay attention in class and I never really focused on the details.
The thing to do is to finish the painting. But I’m already recoiling at the blemishes, the ugliness, and more than the ugliness, the stupidity of what I’ve done. And of me. I fear that in its smallness, it will convey my own smallness, and in attempt at bigness, convey how much I want to be big, even believe myself to be big. Because while I fear my smallness, I still hold on to hope of that fear being unfounded, and I fear the exposure of this hope, in the same time that hope is shatter. I fear giving up the power of this hope to someone else. And all of that, I fear is conveyed by the few marks I’ve made on the surface of the painting.
Of course, if it would convey all I feared, so perfectly, it would be a big painting, in a way. But it would never be credited to me. It would be credited to the person seeing in it the full scope and context of my mediocrity. They’d get that credit even if they didn’t get it right. They could be way off, in fact, and for all people knew, that would be me that they saw. If I protested at how, no, I have an entirely different medicority than the one they suspected, this would be taken as evidence for the particular medicority I was denying.
Anyway, it’s all I can see when I look at the painting. I can’t look beyond the embarrassment of the first few marks. And so I try at again on a clean surface. And another error comes up. Or, not an error, but something else begins to seem distorted, grotesque.
This does not continue forever, exactly. At some point, if I work very, very, hard, I can get a version of the finished product that does not contain, to me, any obvious errors, that looks fine, that looks nothing like my vision but still looks like something that is mine, or at least like something that has been painted.
And then someone will come along and point out where my colors could have been sharpened, where I missed a shadow, some shit like that.
And then I realize that it’s worse than I thought. It’s not just that I can’t do it. It’s that I can’t even tell good art from bad.
But who gives a fuck about me and my paintings? Why am I rambling on for you? I make my little paintings, all right. Do you want to buy one? (Do you see something in it? Do you see something in it that makes you see a big painting, maybe one that I’d missed, maybe I was wrong all along?)
How do I make them, you ask? (I wish you would.)
I’ll tell you how. I go to work to make a big painting. I get idea after idea, I throw them away before I start, or as soon as I sketch them. I know how it ends. They’re no good. I get rid of all of them, until all that is left is banal, all that is left is inanity, something I certainly can’t spoil by making a bad first strokes, or a whole bad draft, or a whole awful painting, something that I certainly can’t spoil because there was nothing there to spoil in the first place.
And there’s my little painting.
I’m getting good at it. I don’t even have to think of big paintings some nights. Sometimes I can just get right into the inanity and crank out a little painting. Soon I won’t even see it as inanity. I’ll be in the inanity myself. Already I’m nestling deeper into it. I sometimes dream of sharpening my focus, and of looking back on the art I thought was inane and seeing that it wasn’t really so bad.
I like that dream. So I never test it.