In his scrumptious essay Regressive Painting and the Holy Fool, Michael Leunig – Australian cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher and poet – speaks about the way our brilliant ideas often act to sabotage true creativity, leading us into frustration and disillusionment. But all is not lost, he suggests, for our temper tantrums can be the portal to the domain of the holy fool, and that’s the source of our authentic creative expression. The following is a short extract from the essay, which I posted recently at the awakened eye blog.
It could go something like this: the painter might begin a piece of work with high hopes and set forth with an interesting or brilliant idea in mind, but all too soon the painting begins to fail, the idea collapses and ambition starts to sour. The transcription from the intellect to the canvas is looking lifeless and artless, and the painter is starting to feel despondent. It’s not working! How often it is that the mind and the hand have lost touch with each other.
The painter redoubles all efforts but this only makes things worse and regression is happening as dismay and disillusionment set in. Soon enough the painting is in a miserable mess and everything is in disarray. It looks awful and the painter is emotionally heavy with self-doubt and disappointment. The worst has happened, the situation is lost and the painter’s ego is peeling away.
Little is it understood but at last the painter is breaking free, albeit a free fall – into a disturbing state of not knowing. The regression deepens, reason has fled while tantalizing and delinquent infantile impulses are felt: the petulant desire to destroy the painting and get rid of the evidence; the painful reminder of inability and failure.
At this point one of the noble truths of creativity may begin to emerge: ‘disillusionment precedes inspiration and growth’. So instead of abandoning the failure as many would, the artist recognizes an opportunity to be free and play about casually or recklessly in the ruins; to experiment and throw all cautious technique, all self criticism and high standards to the wind because now there is nothing to lose and nobody is watching. Before long the painter has forgotten the failure and becomes absorbed in the anarchy of spontaneous gestures and spirited whimsical play. The holy fool and originality are at hand. The artist is painting unselfconsciously and with happy abandon – and somewhat like a child.
To hell with solemnity and proper art; the joy of discovery is all that matters now; the unprecedented textures, the way the colours have by chance smeared into each other: beautiful startling subtleties and unimagined miracles small and large to delight or shock the eye. And so it proceeds until the painter is staring in fascination at this revelation that the hands and impulses have created in a state of regression; a state that could not have been planned or organized – but simply happened when ego and ambition had sufficiently crumbled.
– Michael Leunig, Regressive Painting and the Holy Fool
I realise that many readers of this blog also subscribe to the awakened eye (nods and waves to you) and have probably read Michael’s essay. But for those of you who haven’t, do yourself a favour and immerse yourself in his writing about creativity, authenticity, playfulness, wonderment, beauty, the holy fool, plus a selection of his whimsical artworks. Here’s the link:
A couple more quotes – I can’t help myself, these are so cool…
The artist needs to know how to lose the plot
– how to not care and how to not know –
and how to actually enjoy that freedom
and understand what a blessed revitalizing state all of that mess can be.
The most joyous painting is not done for the art world, it is done for the inner world; it is a self delighting other-worldly thing – a getting lost in regression and solitude; a sub-literate, semi-delirious way to be with the spirited little fool in the depths of one’s being for a while – there to invent one’s art freely, and there to find enchantment, infinite surprise and the bright wondrous question ‘What is this?’
A Leunig post from the archives, 2010