January was the last year of The Journaling Project. I wasn't able to quit until August.
At my job in DC, I often got calls from headhunters looking for Executive Assistants. I got a call from a headhunter about an Executive Assistant position that would pay between $100,000 and $130,000 a year. Which I thought was crazy. They left a voicemail and I ignored it, but they called me back. I asked why they would pay such a high salary – the woman who called said because of "who he is," ‘he’ being some big science guy who was being hired to be the President of a local nonprofit Institute. My coworker, the Executive Secretary, got the call, too, and figured out where the position was because she knew the current President of this Institute was retiring. We both signed up at the employment agency who made the call, but they merely interviewed my coworker whereas they put me through the battery of employment agency tests. My coworker said she would have walked out had they tested her. I was never called for an interview.
My coworker got the job. They did indeed pay that salary, but when she went for the interview they asked her who told her the position paid that much (and she was prepared to walk out if they weren't serious). She ended up working there for two and a half years. At first it seemed like a great place to work, with free lunch in the cafeteria. She invited me over a few times for lunch. They were going to hire an assistant for her and she talked like I would get the job. But this never happened. The big science guy wasn’t quite as nice as she thought at first, saying things like he allowed all employees one mistake, but only one. Office politics eventually did her in and someone in the office engineered the situation so that they took over her job and farmed out the rest of her duties so they claimed she was no longer needed. She was laid off. I was very glad I was not hired there, no matter the salary.
Anyway, in January of 2009, to cover the fact that I was going to that employment agency to sign up, I asked for the morning off to go to the National Gallery. I wanted to see the Rothkos. I had never been able to find most of the modern art, so I wanted to go and ask and have someone show me where it was. And I wanted to see their Rothkos. I went on 1/14/09. The modern art is hidden down a stairway that you cannot see from far away. It’s hard to explain but if you ever go to the National Gallery, at the main front desk, the modern art is to the left – you cannot see the stairs going down to the basement until you are right in front of them. So, after wasting my time taking typing tests and Microsoft Office tests and being interviewed like I was never called in for a particular position, I went to the National Gallery.
I had a blog post about this experience, but it was deleted during my big blog purge. I rewrote it briefly for this blog post about shutting down my Left Brain. But here is the full story:
I walked down the steps, excited to see the Rothkos. When I came around the corner and saw them, I was disappointed. It was strange. It was like my brain just saw different colored rectangles on canvas and nothing else. ‘Huh,’ I thought, and I sat down on one of the benches and took out my Journaling pieces and began to write. After awhile, maybe half an hour, I looked up and I saw them – I really saw them. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my Left Brain had shut down, so I could really see the artwork. I was amazed and surprised. Suddenly I saw all the colors, all the shades of blue, of green. Here is the writing from the Journaling pieces, written on the spot. FYI: ‘Ptg’ = painting and ‘Drg’ = drawing.
1/14/09 11:14 am
I’m at the National Gallery, in a hidden gallery I never knew was here, in front of their three Rothkos. [insert choir singing]
On the left is a magenta black one. In the center is a blue, green and white one. On the right is an orange, yellow and white one.
I like the big blue one the best. After staring at it awhile, the colors begin to shimmer, especially the borders of the green rectangles against the deep blue. I’d like to take this one home with me. I’d like to live with it awhile.
There aren’t any brush strokes, or thick paint – it’s all watery and sunk into the canvas. I used to paint like that, on raw canvas, as an undergrad. Watery paint that sunk in and stained the canvas. It looks like it may be layers of paint. Like he put down one rectangle, then put another on top, but didn’t fully cover the one underneath. Then the white rectangle at the bottom is opaque paint, but you can see the dark color showing underneath. It’s not perfect.
When you look at each rectangle, they aren’t solid colors, they are full of atmosphere – I see orangy brown and several shades of green in the two “green” rectangles. I see lots of darker shades showing through the white one.
They are definitely more than just blocks of color. They draw you in. If you’re willing to sit here and look awhile. The more I look, the more I see in the ptg. I wish I could make art that speaks volumes.
This is something that I just can’t manage to do – to put down material – drg or ptg media – and let it be, let it develop, let it speak. I always shush it and try to fix it (ruin it) and declare it a failure and move on.
I’ve never approached my art in this way – letting the art speak. Letting marks, colors, strokes – speak. Without obsessing over the art-killing accuracy. Without fixing, adjusting, like I’m terminally trapped in Life Drg.
I have never seen art materials as a physical vehicle for expression. I have always been far too cerebral with it. Stuck in my own head, playing my Low Self-Esteem tapes of, “Oh, but it’s just not right.”
I still haven’t learned to be an artist. I still don’t know what it means to be an artist. To take materials and let them speak. – And listen to what they have to say instead of imposing dialogue upon them. No, no, let me fix you.
I’ve never learned how to paint vs. taking paint and making an image of x. I’ve come close and backed off. I’ve never let the paint be paint. Vs. a vehicle. The paint is. It doesn’t have to be x.
Putting down the paint and seeing what it does is enough. Where did I get the faulty idea that accurate realism is the only goal? That the image is the goal vs. what is the paint doing? Is it moving? Is it speaking? Is it glowing?
I am far too mental and cerebral and not physical enough. Art making is a physical thing. I have never approached it that way – physically put down materials, step back, and see what they do. –DON’T THINK!
I am not a very physical person, but I need to be. I have never been a very physical person. I have always spent way too much time inside my own head, lost in my thoughts, daydreaming. I need to get out of my head. OUT.
I’ve been sitting here looking at the blue ptg so long, I wouldn’t even call the green rectangle green anymore, I can see so many other colors in them, like a forest in the top one, like the ocean in the middle one.
What would happen if I painted a figure like this, I wonder? You know, I confess, when I first came in here, my first impression of these ptgs was: it’s just rectangles of color.
I wanted to be blown away immediately, but was not. However, having sat here for about 45 minutes now, looking and looking, and being with them, letting them speak, now that I can see what’s there, now I’m blown away. It takes time.
It’s normal for the brain to quickly categorize – “orange” “yellow” “blue” “green” “white” “magenta” “black.” This takes looking beyond that. Like in Drg on the Rt Side of the Brain, you have to quiet the Left Side and let the Right Side come out.
It takes time to see the sea of colors. To see the movement come out. For the “green” to become something else. For the ptg to start talking. They are saying: There is more here than you think.
Maybe that has also been my problem, still not addressed – the Left Brain asserts itself and never gives the Right Brain a chance to look, consider, see. What a funny dilemma for an artist, huh?
Further proof that I still don’t know how to be an artist. It’s difficult when your goal is to NOT DO rather than TO DO. How about a goal of just TO BE? Or TO LET IT BE. DON’T THINK.
I need to make myself a big sign: DON’T THINK. This is the last j. piece I have with me. I used them all up! 12:12 pm Wow – I’ve been with the Rothkos for an hour. I need to find a bathroom. I had to pee when I got here! Then I forgot about it in front of the ptgs!
More January J. Pieces:
I wanted to go into DC for the Inauguration of President Obama, but decided against it. My office mate D. had talked about sleeping on the floor in our office the night before, but she ended up deciding against that. She and her Mom went in super early. It was winter time and cold and I really didn’t want to trek all the way downtown. When I woke up in my nice warm bed, Steve came in and said DC was already a sardine can. So we watched it on t.v. The crowds were amazing. Even journalists had trouble getting in.