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I find fancy art supplies intimidating. Cadmium red is expensive, and a thoroughly gessoed and sanded panel requires a sizable investment in time as well as money. Thus when I paint, I risk trying too hard. Writing requires a time investment as well, and any research necessary seems to be the equivalent of sanding gessoed panels. But I have a quibble with that: Preparing a panel is like cleaning the kitchen, but researching a topic for writing is more like cooking – it takes thought of greater relevance to the final product. Research is more intimately involved with the blessed writing event. To finish the analogy, the acts of painting and writing themselves must be like eating. And although perhaps warranted by my saying “blessed event”, I am unable to point to any similarities between eating and giving birth. Maybe later.

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A metaphor that includes eating got me thinking of William Blake, “Thus one portion of being, is the Prolific, the other, the Devouring … These two classes of men are always upon the earth, and they should be enemies; whoever tries to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence” (fn1) Maybe more on this later as well.

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Let’s make the painting and writing analogy fair, and suppose that for every one hundred words that you wish to save, you have to pay one dollar. I believe this one cent a word fee would be a factor of greater or lesser degree for everyone, except on occasion, for the wealthy, reckless, and highly motivated. I’m rarely those kinds of person.

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Prose written under these circumstances is endangered: It could wind up purple, overwrought, or pretentious, because when every word costs, you’d better make them all good. We all want to do our best, but there are external circumstances that adversely affect our judgement. I’m not left with any good excuses, but I’m glad my save button is free.

I didn’t fully realize I found fancy art supplies intimidating until I was cleaning out a closet and discovered an old account ledger book. The pages were very appealing and because of that, the last few months have been productive – free, casual, and loose – not my typical way of doing things. I don’t want any excuses for my painting either, I want good painting.

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This is all very nice, but there are two metaphors above that bother me, and when I consider them together, it’s even worse. It’s difficult to see how creating a work of art is like eating, and it’s especially difficult when I wonder who the Prolific and the Devourers might be. Things would be easier if, I had just launched my metaphor like God’s truth, and left it to the poor reader to work it out.

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But I can’t leave it alone, and I’m going to get Marcel Duchamp involved. He seemed to be more about the cooking than the eating: He pointed out that the relevant thought and decisions behind the production of the work is where you will find the art. But this isn’t necessarily a call to conceptual art because so much thought is involved in the production itself. The process is a matter of dealing with changes, working through thickets and a multitude of decisions. I think the eating must be more than ingestion, it also includes digestion.

Here’s an example: I didn’t think these things until I wrote them. I merely started with the wish to examine intimidation, which I hadn’t really noticed until I left it behind with my ledger paintings. Talking about intimidation looked like an easy way to share my new work. All I needed was some paper worthy of recycling and a free save button. Nonetheless, there are people who think there’s no free lunch. Odd.

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(fn1) William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, David V. Erdman ed., Anchor Books, Garden City, New York, 1982, p. 40. I really like footnotes like this. They reference a proof of accuracy more reliable than the internet, and at the same time, given the internet, they seem quaint and pointless. I like that.

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