Interviewsand Articles

 

From the Editor w&c #34: Enough, Not Enough

by Richard Whittaker, Nov 17, 2017


 

 




What is enough?
It’s a serious question. Once I thought I’d undertake a personal investigation and ask artists that question. I suppose the idea occurred one day when I was overcome with disappointment. I felt sure other artists suffer in similar ways, and not just in the essential way described by Agnes Martin when she wrote, “the life of the artist is a life of suffering.” What she meant is the suffering that follows when one’s painting, sculpture—one’s art piece—continues to fall short of touching the magic that transforms everything—”a moment of perfection,” as she calls it. The falling short is a familiar experience for an artist, the moment of perfection far less so. Yet once experienced, can one ever feel satisfied with its absence?
     What is enough is a question for everyone, but I think it’s particularly so for artists. Moments do arise in a life of art making—of struggling with the brush, of seeking recognition, of hoping for a miracle—when something does comes one’s way. Then one is happy—for a while. As Ann Weber says,  “It’s great when I’ve had exhibits. Then the work comes back and I’m lonely and isolated again. You wonder why you do it.” She goes on, “Making my work is excruciatingly boring. But when it’s done, it makes me really happy. Seeing some of these pieces, I think, ‘Oh, my God!’ They’re so great it brings tears to my eyes.” At such a moment, one has no thought of wanting more. Then you go back to life, and soon something is missing.
     John Toki introduced Jeremiah Jenkins to me via a few photos and a note, and I was intrigued right away. When something is particularly funny, it’s hard to describe why. But I knew I wanted to meet this artist. I shouldn’t have been surprised when, besides a good deal of laughing during our conversation, I found us approaching fundamental questions.
     From his high school days, Jenkins loved comedy and even entertained hopes of making it to Saturday Night Live. But as his creative exploration continued, he came to feel that with art, “I could make more important jokes. I could still make people laugh, but also could make people think about things in a deeper way.”   
     Jenkins has been through a lot in the years since he got his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. He mused, “In those earlier days, I was very political. Now my questions are more existential. “What is a valuable object?” “What is art for?” And in the background, unspoken, “Can art be enough?”
     Looking at Diane Ding’s paintings one is struck not only by of the power of her work, but also by the revelation that here’s another remarkable artist few of us know about. Her paintings are like doors into stories we can’t quite make out. In a way, each of these paintings is enough. How could they be any better? But each one also seems to invite us into a world of longing and incompleteness.
     My introduction to Robert Lax arrived as a book in the mail, S. T. Georgiou’s In the Beginning Was Love: Contemplative Words of Robert Lax. In our interview with Georgiou, the poet/sage is brought to life, even in the way he holds a simple object in his hand. Sitting next to Lax, Georgiou marvelled, “Here was a man eighty years old and yet it felt like he was a child with the open smile and bright eyes, the laugh and a grace beyond what you can prepare for.” Georgiou continued, “[Thomas]Merton used to say, ‘Become like a chip on the water and the waters take you where you go.’ Nobody can make that happen; it happens because you trust in something greater.” Lax understood something about the plenitude of “that mysterious emptiness that holds up everything.”
     As Aryae Coopersmith writes in his introduction to Holy Beggars, “There are times and places where the infinite intersects with the finite. For some of us living in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco in the 1960s, this was one of those times.” Aryae’s book brought those singular times back to me. In this excerpt from Holy Beggars, we read about a classic collision: Shlomo Carlbach, “the singing rabbi,” a mystic with “a lifetime visa to the heart,” is confronted by an elder full of righteousness grounded in the letter of the law. Even better, it’s a true story.
     And Susan Vorbeck’s reflections on her life as a seamstress raise a question about skillful and honest work done by hand. Getting paid is good, but wouldn’t it be great if such work were honored more widely? 
     We have more: poetry from Red Hawk, who graces us with a return visit; a new episode of Cindy Legoretta’s Mongo Notes (mongo is a NYC term for dumpster diving); and, yes, Indigo Animal’s adventures continue.
 —Welcome to issue #34.  

 

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine. 

 

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