Mental Health Monday: Enjoying the Process

Flannery O’Connor: Self-portrait with peacock

What do William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Flanner O’Connor, Aldous Huxley, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, William Butler Yeats, e. e. Cummings, Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Minot, Derek Walcott, William Jay Smith, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Jorge Luis Borges have in common? They are all writers who also paint.

I’m sure they are many more artists, musicians, writers and other creative who work (or play) in more than more medium. As Lawrence Ferlinghetti said, “It’s all the same urge, the same expression, the same message. Some day, it might come out graphically, another day, it’ll come out in words.”

 About five years ago Donald Friedman (lawyer-turned-writer) had the idea to put together a collection of art by writers, and then to publish a book about it, called The Writer’s Brush. Here’s a nice news short about it on CBS from 2007. The book even contains essays by William H. Gass and John Updike.

Kurt Vonnegut says, “As any writer knows, the real pleasure in writing comes when the moment, when you can get rid of the manuscript, just get it out of your life, whereas painting is a continuing pleasure in the process of doing it.” Watch a video of Vonnegut talking about his contributions to the collection here. (That’s his ink drawing, “Goodbye Blue Monday.”)

It was fun to learn that the novelist Susan Minot carries a purse-sized water color kit just about everywhere she goes. I did this for a few year. I found myself documenting places and events for the purpose of publishing those little pieces here in my blog, or sending them as gifts to others. I was trying to see what the camera might miss. And sometimes—especially when we were in Italy—I enjoyed the process. But mostly I was after the product.

That pleasure in the process was what I was after on Saturday when I took my daughter, Beth, and my daughter-in-law, See, to a wonderful little studio in the Cherry Creek area of Denver for an afternoon of “Canvas and Cocktails.” What could be better for your soul that spending a couple of hours drinking sangria and painting a picture of a peacock feather? (A different object is featured at each painting session.)

So, when I sat down with my sangria, palette and blank white canvas on Saturday afternoon, I watched the instructor make playful strokes to begin the painting, and I joined in with that same spirit of playfulness. I didn’t worry about what each stage of the painting looked like. I just relaxed and had fun.

the process begins

The years I spent writing/painting icons taught me to be very deliberate with each brush mark. Iconography is a disciplined, structured, liturgical art form. And while I derived great pleasure from the dozens of icons I painted, most of the time that pleasure came at the end of the process, rather than during it. 

I laughed with my daughter and daughter-in-law as we joked about what our paintings looked like at various stages (“Wilson” on the Tom Hanks movie, “Castaway” or a big ball of fire. The painting next to Beth’s looked like an alien in its early stages.)

But in the end, we were not only happy with our peacock feathers (which we took home to see if our husbands could guess who did which one and laughed a bit more) but I think our souls grew a little bit. My daughter, Beth, is an architect by training, and See has a graphic arts degree and has decorated her home with many original paintings. So, we had all done some art previously. But I think they would agree that the process was so much more important than the product.

I’m headed back to Memphis today, where I’ll finish up some Christmas preparations and continue to work on research and an outline for my new novel. But maybe I’ll also finally do something with those blank canvases in my closet whenever I need a mental health break.

1 thought on “Mental Health Monday: Enjoying the Process”

  1. painting like writing allows you to use both sides of your brain. right and left. you can be dominant in either one. left side is supposed to be more verbal. right side more visual. also with painting,
    you can either copy or mimic something you have seen or you can create something totally imaginary. the painting process is not unllike writing.

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