Painting sonnet 82: dissolving dualities (January 20 – February 10, 2016)

Lena Levin. Sonnet 82 (I grant thou weren’t married to my Muse). 20″x20″. 2016

I grant thou wert not married to my Muse,
And therefore mayst without attaint o’erlook
The dedicated words which writers use
Of their fair subject, blessing every book.
Thou art as fair in knowledge as in hue,
Finding thy worth a limit past my praise;
And therefore art enforced to seek anew
Some fresher stamp of the time-bettering days.
And do so, love; yet when they have devised,
What strained touches rhetoric can lend,
Thou truly fair, wert truly sympathised
In true plain words, by thy true-telling friend;
And their gross painting might be better used
Where cheeks need blood; in thee it is abused.

The beginning of this sonnet painting was rooted in two initial impressions:

First, the way this sonnet contrasts with the previous one, 81: the markedly increased distance between “I” and “thou/you” of the sonnet. If the eight first sonnet suggested that “I” and “thou” are, in a sense, two “selves” of the poet, here they are definitely different “persons”. And the other person is not even the poet’s Muse anymore — this idea is replaced by (not) being married to her.

Secondly, the repetitive juxtaposition of fair and true — and their interaction within the sonnet — reminded me of what Hamlet tells Ophelia about incompatibility of honesty and beauty. And “true” repeated four times within the space of two lines: a conspicuously pervasive insistence on one’s own honesty.

This insistence on truth highlights the major challenge of “translating” this sonnet: its falsehood, in the plainest sense of saying something one doesn’t believe to be true. That’s what happens when you write a letter to someone you are really angry with, but whom you don’t want to anger; you want to let them know how wrong they are, but try to be polite and politic, even to flatter them — but only to get your point across, which makes you even angrier, because all the while you don’t believe a single word you are saying. It is this forced falsehood that finally breaks the all too elegant flesh of the sonnet with the four repetition of true in lines eleven and twelve.

But how on earth can this kind of falsehood express itself in a painting? A falsehood that sees itself for what it is ? How do you make a painting false, but simultaneously true at a higher level — at the level of faithfully recreating the experience of pretending? This particular experience of pretending because you are hurt, and don’t want to be hurt even more?

These questions connected themselves with the contrast between two “selves”: the more expansive “self” of Sonnet 81, capable of bestowing immortality, and the narrowed, contracted “self” of Sonnet 82, overcome with absurd jealousy to “rival poets” – the “smaller” self, which takes charge when the larger one collapses in response to being hurt, angered, jealous, afraid.

The stronger one’s connection to the higher self, the more painful this collapse must be; one can almost hear the scratching sound of the whole infinite space crushing into a narrow “hole” of limited perception. This is the experience enacted in this sonnet, and this is the experience that had to be expressed in the painting.

2015-09-09 14.27.59This understanding brought with it the initial vision for the painting: an open space expanding from the left upwards to the right, and the small (flat, cubistic, not quite whole) human figure crushed in the bottom right corner. From the very beginning, this painting connected itself to the motive of the sonnet 78 painting — located right above it the future sixteen-sonnets composition: the god-like Muse, who was raising the human up to the heaven, has finally thrown the him to the earth.

Pablo Picasso. The old blind guitarist.
Pablo Picasso. The old blind guitarist.

And then the open space of this concept filled itself with a rainbow. It happened when I caught a tiny glimpse of rainbow on my shower floor. The rainbow presented itself as a way to introduce two — apparently contradictory — sensations emanating from the sonnet: its background tone of a higher, “god-like”, self, and its pretence, its superficial falsity. There had been “signs” of the part a rainbow has to play in this painting before: the couple of rainbows we saw on Saturday, and a later moment when my attention was drawn to the twentieth sonnet painting with its — not quite successful — rainbow (interestingly that sonnet contains the word “hue”, like this one; it may well be that this word naturally brings the rainbow into the imagery of a sonnet). But this tiny funny rainbow in the small pool of water on the floor of my shower was the “last straw” that clarified this idea.

Another aspect of the painting clarified itself on the same morning— not quite directly, but the painting would “refer” to Picasso’s old blind guitarist. That was enough to start the painting process, but this process turned out to be both harder and more rewarding than I had anticipated.

2016-01-26 15.49.33By the end of two painting days, the rainbow looked way more garish than I felt comfortable with. In a sense, that was the intended reflection of the “false sound” of the sonnet, but it didn’t quite work nonetheless. I felt an aversion to the look and feel of the painting, but wasn’t sure whether it’s essentially the same aversion I feel towards the pretence of the poem. All in all, I didn’t like the paintings’ “present”,  and I couldn’t see its future.

2016-01-27 12.54.51The next night brought some clarity: a still vague way of gradually muting the colours of the rainbow, without fully losing its rainbow-y feel. The rainbow was now just an underpainting; if there is a rainbow out there in this space, then the sonnet hides it, rather than revealing it. As I began to implement this new vision, the initial contrast between space and flatness, colour and greyness has softened into some sort of unification. However humbled and degraded the poet in this sonnet, it is still he — not someone else — who generates the space he has fallen from, the heaven he has — temporarily at least — lost. The new composition was barely there, but I finally saw, even if not quite clearly, the future of the painting; and there was a sense of breaking through yet another false duality, the duality of two “selves”. I love these moments of clarification happening inside the process, when the painting is not just an implementation of a pre-conceived vision, but a rightful participant, with its own contribution to the result.

Marc Chagall. Homage to Apollinaire. 1912
Marc Chagall. Homage to Apollinaire. 1912

And another source for this painting (apart from Picasso’s musician) has revealed itself: Chagall’s homage to Apollinaire. There are two shared ideas, which might appear quite disconnected from one another: the dominance of a circle in the composition, and the explicit tension between duality and unity. All in all, the painting of this sonnet turned out to be a private exercise in dissolving and overcoming dualities.

What I initially perceived as the core of the sonnet, the recorded experience of falling into the constraints of smaller, angrier self, has revealed itself to be — not wrong exactly, but too limited, insufficient. Understood too straightforwardly, it led me to what can be justly called gross painting (to use the sonnet’s own words): too direct, too superficial, garish, gaudy.

2016-01-29 14.44.49What was needed was to acknowledge that both layers of self are there; perhaps they cannot exist one without the other. Stressing the opposition — without recognising the underlying unity — is but a deeper-level falsehood, another misplaced duality. The same voice both falls from the heaven and generates the heaven. Dissolving the contrast (while still keeping it alive, in a sense) involved changes in colour, in the overall geometry of the painting, and, on the purely representational level, in the change of the hand gesture (it now links this painting to the sixty fifth sonnet painting). And then something strange happened — quite unforeseen, unplanned: the dissolution of the duality between the poet and the muse.

In the future sixteen-paintings composition, this painting will be directly below the seventy eighth one, with its huge Muse supporting the poet in the sky. I assumed this one would then “read” as the defeated poet having been thrown down — but by the end of the day, this painting’s figure palpably identified itself with the muse. In a sense, it is now both the poet and the muse. This was the resolution of the painting’s (and the sonnet’s) conflict.

I left the painting to sit there for a while, uncertain about whether it was complete. And the longer it was sitting there in the corner of my studio, the louder the inner voice of the need to return to it, so I returned to it on February 10, 2016. This day strengthened and clarified the unification of the two contrasting parts of the painting, both in its colour and its geometry. The figure in the bottom right corner of the painting is now not a lonely victim, but also the source of the rainbow-y space. And the rainbow itself has gradually transformed itself from a garish flat curve into a more topologically complex, multidimensional, and mysterious space.

February 10, 2016: a return to sonnet 82

2016-02-10 14.04.43There was a sensation of being scattered about this day, as though everything was slightly out of focus.

The day’s visible core is the completion of sonnet 82. Well, I have already kind of completed it once, but there was a lingering feeling of uncertainty about this — and the longer it was sitting there in the corner of my studio, the louder the inner voice of the need to return to it.

The painting of this sonnet developed from a stark contrast between the god-like state of poet and his crushed, solitary state of isolated self towards a more unified view of these opposing states, their interconnectedness, even a harmony between them. This last day of painting just strengthened and clarified this unification, both in its colour and its geometry. The figure in the bottom right corner of the painting is now not a lonely victim, but also the source of the rainbow-y space. And even though the inner link between the painting and the sonnet may not be immediately apparent, the painting does rehearse the sonnet more clearly now — which is to say, when I look at it, the sonnet immediately begins to rehearse itself in my head.

There was one personal insight, one “aha-moment”, in the process of painting this sonnet. I tend to think of enlightenment, self-transcendence as the destination of a journey; the journey may be long and difficult, but once you arrive, you are “firmly” there. The vacillation between two states of consciousness in this sonnet (and in the painting) made me realise that this is not quite the right metaphor: that the choice exists within every single moment, and needs to be renewed every single moment.   

78-82And one more painting-internal event I want to remember. At one point, there was an ambivalence in my mind about the top right corner of the painting, and how to resolve it. Basically, that was the last unclear aspect of the painting; the last question to be answered.

At this moment, another sonnet, sonnet 78, started “playing” in my head instead of this one. Sonnet 78, which — in this composition of sixteen paintings — will find itself right above this one. I decided to listen to this voice, and to have a look at how these paintings are going to work together — and a clear solution suggested itself immediately.   

Looking back, the development of this sonnet painting involved a gradual transformation of the rainbow — from a two-dimensional curve into a more topologically complex and mysterious space; and this slight change in the right top corner not only linked this sonnet more visibly to the one above it, but also completed this transformation.

January 30, 2016: dissolving dualities

2016-01-29 14.44.49Today’s painting session, a roller caster of ups and downs, but I believe the painting is as complete as it can be at this stage. Perhaps more important have been the accompanying shifts and insights into the meaning of the sonnet.

Marc Chagall. Homage to Apollinaire. 1912
Marc Chagall. Homage to Apollinaire. 1912

There is an additional, more hidden, source for this painting (apart from Picasso’s musician): Chagall’s homage to Apollinaire. This understanding crossed my mind a couple of days ago, so I looked at Chagall’s painting this morning. There are two shared ideas, which might appear quite disconnected from one another: the dominance of a circle in the composition, and the explicit tension between duality and unity.

All in all, the painting of this sonnet turned out to be a private exercise in dissolving and overcoming dualities.

It started with my struggle with two layers of the sonnet — one corresponding to its overt, “literal” meaning, and the second, “deeper” one: the speaker recording himself lying, in a futile attempt to please the person he is angry with. A couple of days ago, I reread Helen Vendler’s analysis of this sonnet, and was struck by the complete absence of this second layer in her interpretation. At the time, I decided to disregard this, since it was so obviously incompatible with what I perceived as the core of the sonnet, the recorded experience of falling into the constraints of smaller, angrier self.

But it didn’t quite work, did it? Understood too straightforwardly, too forcefully, it led me to what can be justly called gross painting (mentioned in the sonnet): too direct, too superficial, garish, gaudy.

What I needed to move away from that was to acknowledge that both layers are there, and that they cannot exist one without the other. Stressing their difference — without recognising the underlying unity — is but a deeper level falsehood, another misplaced duality. The same voice, the same being both falls from the heaven and generates the heaven. There is no choice of one over the other, and if imposed, it leads to another “gross painting” (remarkably, I had nearly forgotten the couplet, with its mention of “gross paintings” in the process).

Lena Levin. Sonnet 65. 2014.
Lena Levin. Sonnet 65. 2014.

Dissolving the contrast (while still keeping it alive, in a sense) was the essence of today’s work on the painting: in colour, in the overall shared compositional movement, and — on the purely representational level — in the change of the hand gesture (which links this painting to sixty fifth sonnet painting). And then something strange happened — quite unforeseen, unplanned: the dissolution of the duality between the poet and the muse.

2015-09-09 14.27.59In the future sixteen-paintings composition, this painting will be directly below the seventy eighth one, with its huge Muse supporting the poet in the sky. I assumed this one would then “read” as the defeated poet having been thrown down — but by the end of the day, this painting’s figure palpably identified itself with the muse. In a sense, it is now both the poet and the muse. This was the resolution of the painting’s (and the sonnet’s) conflict.

January 27, 2016: muting the rainbow

2016-01-27 12.54.51I was not sure the would be any painting happening today when I went to sleep last night — I only had time for a short painting session, and the day left me with foggy, ambivalent feelings about the painting: I did not know what to do with it, and whether I even want to see it again.

But there was a long waking period this night — I have them, occasionally, and I stopped thinking of this as of insomnia, because these are, almost invariably, very fruitful times, filled with insights and discoveries. This night, it felt like a barrier has fallen (or been broken through); the sensations of lightness and joy, as though I had been carrying a heavy load, and now it somehow disappeared.

I didn’t even think of the painting, but some clarity has emerged anyway — a way of gradually muting the colours of the rainbow, without fully losing its “rainbow-iness”. The rainbow is just an underpainting, it turned out; if there is a rainbow out there, then the sonnet obscures it (rather than reveals it).

Since it was a short painting session, this new vision hasn’t quite been implemented yet, just started. But there was also an emergence of a new structure — revealed just by scratching away bits and pieces of paint. The original contrast between space and flatness, colour and greyness has softened into some sort of unification. However humbled and degraded the poet, it is still he — not someone else — who generates the space he has fallen from, the space he has — temporarily at least — lost. The new structure is barely there, but I see something now — I have a hope for this painting. There is a sense of breaking through yet another false duality, the duality of two “selves”.

There are lots of theories, and all of them from good authorities too — about how much you’ve got to see of the future painting before you can actually start painting it: anywhere from nothing to everything. As for me, I love this moment of clarification inside the process, when the painting is not just an imperfect implementation of a vision, but a rightful participant, with its own contribution to the result.

As I edit these public “Studio Journal” entries (usually the day after they were written), I leave out whole chunks of my private journal entries. And I am not sure this is quite justified, since these other processes going on in my life — especially in my inner life — undoubtedly “feed into” the painting process. It compromises the intended rawness of the data, but I have not quite found the way to talk openly about thoughts and processes that touch, in one sense or another, other people; overlap and intersect with their own life stories. This is the current unresolved question…

January 26, 2016, the second painting day for sonnet 82: ambivalence

2016-01-26 15.49.33I am trying a new “weekly structure” since the start of this year, and Tuesday is one of my days “off” — which means, one of my whole painting days. Usually, it also includes two phone conversations, but this time, both of them were cancelled, for different reasons. In the morning, therefore, the day looked like a vast expanse of space, with nothing between me and the horizon, nothing at all.

And so it began, as planned, with a full painting session. Well, not quite — I also have a morning “day creation” ritual, which includes meditation and journaling. But that aside, it was a day of painting, fully dedicated to the eighty second sonnet.

I have ambivalent feelings about this day, and its result — the intermediate stage of the eighty second painting I had achieved by the end of good lighting conditions. The process was fine, albeit with lots of struggle… but the result left me wondering. The rainbow is way more garish than I am “comfortable” with — but then again, that was the intention, the reflection of what I feel as the somewhat paradoxical quality of the sonnet. And yet not quite — I hope the future will bring some resolution of this dilemma…  I feel a palpable aversion to how it looks now — but it may be the same aversion I feel towards the pretence of the poem.

And there are lots of other thing still not clarified, not found about this painting. The intended contrast between space and flatness is not there (yet). Nor are the opposing inside-outside movements. There is a strong colour contrast, all right, but I need something else, something more — something I don’t quite see yet.

I am looking back at the result, and I see what I don’t like. But what I need to see is the future version of this painting, the one I could work toward to. There is this moment in the painting process when the painting becomes too powerful, too visually overwhelming, so that its present state obscures its future. And the question always is: is this power “constructive”? Does the painting knows better than I do where it should go, or do I need to step away and clarify my own understanding of its future? I don’t know the answer yet, I’ll have to live with (and to sleep on) this question.

And I am not sure in any event whether there will be any  painting tomorrow at all — whether I’ll find the time between between the “real life” and all the writing still do be done for the Art of Seeing program. But I have a feeling that this writing — the questions to be answered — will be, in a way yet not quite clear, related to the challenges I face with this painting…

All in all, I loved this day in the studio, there was a wholeness and completeness to it, but I am not satisfied with the result. I’ve left the studio with this sensation that there is a lack of clarity, a forceful imposition of something false and superficial. But as I write this, I recognise that that’s exactly what’s happening in the sonnet — and yet the result should be deeper, and more harmonious, just as the sonnet is.

January 25, 2016: the beginning of sonnet painting 82

2016-01-25 13.36.25I woke up unsure whether I have to start the eighty second sonnet painting right away, or to spend more time on preliminary work.

The decisive moment, when I decided to forego any further preliminary studies, was this glimpse of rainbow on my shower floor. It was in this moment that I understood that the “open space” of the sonnet has to be filled with rainbow… It won’t be easy, but it will be just the right combination of two — apparently contradictory — sensations emanating from the sonnet: its contrastive background of higher, “god-like”, self, and its pretence, its superficial falsity.

There were signals of rainbow before: the couple of rainbows during the Saturday walk, and then the moment when my attention was drawn to the twentieth sonnet painting with its — not quite successful — rainbow (and the sonnet mentions “hue”, like this one). But this little funny rainbow in the small pool of water on the floor of my shower somehow drove home this idea.

I am noticing, again and again, how things I tell my students are often addressed, indirectly, to myself. As though there are some things I find it difficult to tell myself — or to “hear” if they are said to myself — but they are just as (if not more) relevant to myself. This time, it was really simple — the need for a decisive action, as the only way to overcome doubts and fears.

Pablo Picasso. The old blind guitarist.
Pablo Picasso. The old blind guitarist.

Another aspect of the painting clarified itself this morning— not quite directly, but the painting will “refer” to Picasso’s old blind guitarist, in a more “cubist” style of Picasso’s later work.

And so this sonnet painting began — very roughly, without attempting to cover the canvas during the first day, but rather to figure stuff in the process, paying attention to each colour area, stroke by stroke. It’s only a start — more days of painting this to come. In the process, the initially grey “cubist” area turned into another, darker version of the rainbow, but I am not sure how it will work out later.

January 23, 2016: the first vision of sonnet 82

2015-09-09 14.27.59Both Friday themes — the Rembrandt detail study, and the eighty second sonnet — continued on Saturday.

2016-01-23 12.56.12I didn’t really plan to paint on Saturday — the plan was a long walk in the park, and the sky was beautiful. But it started raining, and this created a “window” for a brief painting session, some more work on the Rembrandt study. I wanted to focus on the periphery of the portrait, the breathtaking colours of his clothing, but noticed some mistakes in and around the head. The experience was much less unambiguously positive than yesterday — a fair bit of struggle and frustration; not quite the joyful flow of yesterday. It seems the very mode of “correcting mistakes” is not really conductive to the flow, and I don’t quite know what to do with it (given that mistakes do happen, and have to be corrected). I will probably return to this study — and to this question — later this week.

What I really wanted to happen to me this week is a vision of the eighty second sonnet painting, and it did. By the end of the walk, I was overwhelmed (crushed almost) with the anxiety and fear about a sore spot on my gum, and the accompanying anticipation of all the visits to my dentist this might lead to — a petty fear that managed to completely break the miraculous experience of unity with nature.

But however unpleasant and humbling, this clarified two things for me. At some intuitive level, I know this gum can heal without any involvement of the dentist — but for that, I need to let go of pride, the sensation of which lives somewhere between the throat and the forehead. This little sore place in my body is not a nuisance, it’s a signal. I’ve noticed lately that I almost completely lost the ability to feel “negative” feelings (like pride or fear) as emotions — they are felt as physical sensations in the body.

On the other hand, this experience clarified the theme of the sonnet: here was this collapse of a god-like “self” (in Shakespeare’s case, of someone capable of bestowing immortality and conversing with muses) to a small, pitiful one, overcome and crushed with anger, fear, and petty jealousy. This is the collapse I’ve got to paint.

And so I have the vision for the sonnet: a space expanding from the left upwards to the right, and the small (flat, cubistic, not quite whole) human figure crushed in the bottom right part. And this one will “rhyme” with the painting located just above it in the future sixteen-sonnets composition (and at the top of this post — Sonnet 78) — as though this god-like muse has finally thrown the human to the earth. Something to work on tomorrow, and for the whole week.

January 22, 2016: Shakespeare and Rembrandt

2016-01-22 15.03.36Quite a day in the studio — in communion, as it were, with two towering geniuses, Rembrandt and Shakespeare (they are both so unmistakably god-like that I am tempted to write communion with a capital “C”…)

Now I think about that, I should have somehow add Bach to this company — to cover all realms of art while I am at it. But even as it was, it was filled with awe and joy: that’s the joy of the path I have chosen in art, the path towards complete surrender, letting go of the idea of “self-expression”.

So, two themes of this studio day: approaching sonnet eight two, and my Rembrandt study (the very initial stages of it).

2016-01-22 15.04.15The sonnet work started with a colour chart, just as a way to feel my way into it, and then, later on, continued with letting it play in my mind during the afternoon walk in the park. While making this colour chart, I understood that the major challenge of this sonnet is in its falsehood, in the plainest sense of saying something one doesn’t believe to be true. That’s what happens when you try to write a letter to someone at whom you are really mad, but whom you don’t want to anger; you want to let them know how wrong they were, but not directly. You are trying to be polite and politic, to put yourself in their shoes, to see and accept their point of view. Even to flatter them — if only to get your point across, which makes you even angrier;  but all the while you don’t believe a single word you are saying. It is this falsehood, I felt, that finally breaks out from the all too elegant flesh of the sonnet with the four repetition of “true” in lines eleven and twelve (“The lady doth protest too much” all over again).

But how on earth can I find a way to express this falsehood, a falsehood that sees itself for what it is, in a painting? How do you make a painting false, but simultaneously true at a higher level — at the level of faithfully recreating the experience of pretending? This particular experience of pretending because you are hurt, but don’t want to be hurt even more?

In Shakespeare, this falsehood shows up as an increased politeness, elegance, regularity. My colour chart revolves around clashing of greens and reds, and muted magentas/greys — that seems to be my preliminary colour solution, but there is no vision of the painting yet.

I tried to remember all the times when I wrote this kind of letters (the first association was the experience of responding to a negative and stupid “peer review”), but that didn’t seem to be emotionally charged enough, not anymore.

During the walk, though, it seems I was able to dig a bit deeper. My earlier thoughts connected themselves with this contrast between two levels of communication, two “selves”: the more expansive understanding of “self” suggested by Sonnet 81, and the narrowed, contracted “self” of Sonnet 82. The “smaller” self, which arises when the larger one collapses in response to being hurt, angered, jealous, afeared.

A poet has a better channel of communication with the more expansive “self” than most of us, but they are also a “person”, a narrow self. So this clash, this contraction of self, this scratching when the whole space collapses through a narrow “key hole” of the smaller, personal “self” — this clash is more tangible, more palpably felt. This is the experience I ought to paint here — and I left this train of thoughts at this point, hoping that from that the painting would emerge from them later on.

Most of the time in the studio was spent on this study of Rembrandt: the old man’s head from “The return of the prodigal son”. I expected much more struggle, more technical problems, but the overall experience was effortlessly joyful, exhilarating even. When you just paint what you see — the colours, the brushstrokes, without thinking about any recognisable objects (like eyes, or forehead, or lips), and then the old man’s tired face emerges out of this brushwork as though by a miracle, just by trusting Rembrandt leading your hand.

I deviated from his brushwork, and his way of paint application, quite substantially though. And I was aware, while painting, that my emotional connection to this painting, or at least to this study, is sustained by the understanding, the guess, the recognition, that that’s how my father might have looked like had he been alive now. My attention slipped a bit by the end of the session — and that immediately showed up in the painting. This slip of attention was experienced as an attempt to paint the face (as opposed to “just” Rembrandt’s colour areas), which resulted in it looking much less like a face.

I will (obviously) return to both these themes in the days to come…

January 21, 2016: Rembrandt and dreams

2016-01-21 14.41.34Once again, it hasn’t been much of a “studio day” — my studio work amounted to several quick sketches from Rembrandt, trying to get the sense of how his pictorial space is organised.

The core of the day was dedicated to finalising the third module of my “Learning how to Learn from Masters” course. This is the largest one in the whole program, so I hope to have more time for painting next week…   

I need more time “with” the next sonnet (eighty two): I don’t see it yet, not even close. But I felt way too tired after a whole day of writing and editing to even approach this task. I hope, however, all this writing will somehow help in the end, just because it deepens my overall awareness of the painting process in all its mysterious aspects.

This night was the first time when I had such incredibly high-definition dreams, and so clearly meaningful (and, to some extent, controlled) even within the dream. They were so clear and detailed — in every nuance and subtlety of colour — that when I woke up, I actually took the trouble of “checking”, insofar as it is possible, whether I woke up in the same world, in the same reality. It felt like a sign of (or a part of) some overall increase in clarity, some shift in my sense of vision and — more broadly — in consciousness.

January 20, 2016: the beginning of Sonnet 82 painting

First approach to Sonnet 82 today — just letting it play in my head (and, hopefully, heart), letting it sink in, find its connection to the core of my being. I “put it into my head” before going for a walk, and so the time in the park was spent with the sonnet “in the background”:

I grant thou wert not married to my Muse,
And therefore mayst without attaint o’erlook
The dedicated words which writers use
Of their fair subject, blessing every book.
Thou art as fair in knowledge as in hue,
Finding thy worth a limit past my praise;
And therefore art enforced to seek anew
Some fresher stamp of the time-bettering days.
And do so, love; yet when they have devised,
What strained touches rhetoric can lend,
Thou truly fair, wert truly sympathised
In true plain words, by thy true-telling friend;
And their gross painting might be better used
Where cheeks need blood; in thee it is abused.

In contrast to the previous one, it exists on an unambiguously “interpersonal” level, with a tangible and “polite” distance between its “I” and its “thou”. The idea of (not) being married to the poet’s Muse comes entirely from the outside the sonnets sequence itself — the context of the sonnets implies that the addressee is the Muse, not her spouse. So thou wert not married to my Muse allows for two readings: the “inner” one (no, you aren’t married to her, you are her), and the “outer” one (no, you aren’t married to her, you are a free agent and can enjoy other poets’ offerings).    

The other striking aspect of the sonnet, is, of course, the repetitive fair and true — and their interaction. “True” repeated four times in the space of two lines — from someone so “good with words”, this cannot be accidental. I’ll have to try and find a painting “equivalent” for that. For now, though, it reminded me of this conversation between Hamlet and Ophelia:

Hamle Ha, ha! Are you honest?

Ophelia. My lord?

Hamlet. Are you fair?

Ophelia. What means your lordship?

Hamlet. That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no
discourse to your beauty.

Ophelia. Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty

Hamlet. Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness. This was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof. I did love you once.

Thinking about this sonnet — in its intrinsic opposition to the previous one — clarified my understanding (or rather — my feeling) of this weird thing we call “I”, firmly enclosed within itself and yet somehow distributed all over the place.

And this, in turn, brought the first answer to the question I’ve been living lately: my decreased “studio time”, and the somewhat paradoxical effect of this decrease on the “results”. I have sacrificed some of my studio time to various self-reflection and “just being” activities, let alone working on the “Art of Seeing” platform — and I’ve been feeling acutely that I don’t spend enough time painting. So how could it happen that, at the same time, I’ve been actually painting more?

I realised that the very validity of this question hinges on the validity of the concept of solid “I”.  Who is it that’s spending (or not spending) time in the studio? Obviously, some of the time my body spent was painting during the last months of 2015, “I” was barely in the room. And today during the walk, much more of it was actually involved in the process of painting — while walking at the same time.