Thursday, February 9, 2012

Is Crazy Bad?

I had two paintings that were both wet, taking up space on my two easels. When this happens, and you can't paint because you are waiting for paint to dry, the good thing to do is to start planning your next painting. I go through a planning stage that involves a detailed drawing. So when it isn't possible for me to paint, I draw. Starting out with a new vision on virgin white paper is a mighty challenge.

I have a nice art library. One of the books I hadn't cracked in several years had the title "Angels". I opened it and after fifteen pages realized that the author intended to go through the bible and represent angels in art as they appeared in stories from the religious text. It was funny, the editor must have been a fundamentalist Christian because he or she kept on showing art and detailing how the angels depicted pictorially differed from the scripture - artists will invent of course, and the editor thought it was important to spell out how this or that was not a "proper" type of angel! As far as I got the first night with "Angels" - Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. I was thrilled because here was a story that I could make the central theme of my painting. Early in the process of creation I need to grasp onto a direction, and with lower medication it seems even more important to my mind that I depict some sort of story.

This drawing was especially important because I've been telling everyone that I'm intimate with that on a lower dose of meds, I feel more creative. Problem is, all my drying paintings were started on a higher dose of meds, and don't really represent what I consider now my full potential. The drawing of Adam and Eve would be a test - am I more creative, different, or are my enhanced powers a product of a deluded mind? Would the images flow to me with vibrant and swift energy or would I have to drift, root around, and pull and pull things tediously and slowly out of my imagination?

When I first started making art seriously I was on a very low dose of antipsychotic medication. That was over twelve years ago. Many times I've had a vague sensation that my first work was my best work. I can mature as an artist, but nothing came close to the energy of work done on low medication. I've made good art on medication - but it was art that looked like it was done by a serious, mainstream artist. Words like "quaint" "odd" "energetic" and "primitive" no longer applied. And the work no longer had the otherworldliness of the best of outsider art.

Its been a little over a week and I'm still working on the drawing for Adam and Eve. After working on it for two days I realized that I had imitated a hairstyle for Eve that originated in a self portrait of Frida Kahlo, (about six months ago I read a book that was illustrated with her paintings) and I had to ask myself a serious question; do I want to reference other artist's work or go for the gold, invent completely new visuals for myself? Do I want to copy? Hell no! I wracked my brains and while eating salad in a restaurant with my husband a new head of hair for Eve popped into my mind. Problem was that it involved two birds, and to fit those two birds into the composition, everything had to be erased, figures moved, start over again with a blank page. Grr, arg, it was a hard decision. But now I'm really glad that I did it. The painting will be better because it was started over again. And it will be all a Karen Original.

So now what I'm doing is details of leaves and flowers - what is the garden of Eden without plant life? Its hard work, to make everything look flowing and balanced, but its more a case of composition and less creativity. Still, the drawing requires intense concentration. I can only do a little every day. Of course when the drawing is finished I'll take a picture of it and post it on my blog.

But this morning I felt flat out crazy. A little confession, since I lowered my meds I've been spending more money on clothes and jewelry. A little bit of self control has been abandoned. I keep on telling myself, this is it, the last purchase for a good long while! Last night I cannot begin to describe the amount of mental fixation I had on a necklace I saw online. The picture had burned itself into my head and I wanted it like a thirsty man wants water. I honestly don't know what I thought this necklace would do for me, make me a more beautiful woman I guess. So this morning my will was battling whether or not to take money out of savings for this necklace. (And a dress too to go with the necklace!) Of course I would do it without my husband's knowledge. And that is really what was making me feel crazy. I wanted, I lusted, I needed, but I was going to do something immoral to obtain the object of my fixation. Money matters are usually discussed between my husband and I. I know in my heart he would not approve of the amount of money I've spent this last month on myself, since January 1st when I went down on my meds. In fact he would be shocked. It would cause an enormous fight. We have heating bills to pay, car repairs, dog vet bills, new eyeglasses - all these things that are necessary and that it would be prudent to save for. I've acted like an ass. I was so ashamed for the money I've spent that I wanted to get drunk. I mean, at 11am, knowing that I was going to go to the bank and move our money around so that I could get my necklace, knowing that I couldn't stop myself, I simply wanted to get drunk to escape the shame and trepidation and stress. My behavior is putting our very household's survival at risk.

It was no surprise to me that the way I obsessed about Eve's hair was completely similar to the way I obsessed about this necklace. I've got a friend who is schizophrenic who is not taking any antipsychotic medication at this time. He noticed that the desire to drink (he is alcoholic) was diminished during past times when he took medication for his schizophrenia. So as it appears for both of us, medication makes us more responsible adults, more in control of our impulses. My imagination is my best friend and my worst enemy.

I don't want to be reckless. I don't want to cheat financially on my husband. I want to be moral. I want to be in control. But I like my creativity the way it is. I don't want less medication, yet neither do I want to go back up on medication. I like my drawing of Adam and Eve, even though, and here is another confession, it is wearing me down, the intensity and seriousness I feel towards this project. On more medication life was more of a dream. My attitude toward making art was at times robotic. Repetitive. Hive worker drone like. Now, almost, its like I'm at the edge of a life or death situation. Is this what it means living with passion? I'm not yet at the point where I'm burning myself out but clearly I'm getting into a wee bit of trouble.

Welcome schizophrenic girl to the human race. Many, many sane people find, because of their impulses, that they are in hot water and their life is out of balance.

I'm going to see my therapist tomorrow and I'm not going to draw tomorrow. From here on out, for a good long while, I'm not going to amuse myself by browsing online stores. Like an alcoholic, I've got to not step foot in the bar.

Rembrandt the painter died pretty poor. It wasn't that his work wasn't appreciated or that he didn't have patrons. Its just that he had a wee bit of trouble controlling his spending habits.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Karen,

    In answer to your question, "Is Crazy Bad?" I think we can both agree, sometimes yes and sometimes no. Yes is when life becomes unmanageable, when you sink too low or too high, when you hurt yourself and those you love. No is when the illness makes you laugh or gives you inspiration or teaches you hard lessons. That's something I don't think people understand about serious mental illness, that there are good bits amidst all the bad bits. I think you are wise to be vigilant about your tendency to spend money somewhat indulgently because I have certainly heard with mood disorders that spending sprees can get out of hand and cause a lot of heartache. There is no need to jeopardize your very good relationship with your husband over money.

    On the other hand, your continued inspiration over your work as an artist seems to be a wonderful plus to having reduced the meds. But even there you must be vigilant. It's good to get some feedback on your work from family and friends and here on your blog. I love looking at your work and I am excited that you are working on your own version of Adam & Eve. An interesting question to consider is how much of your artwork is an expression of illness and how much is an expression of sublimated health. What is ill artwork? Is it artwork that doesn't succeed, that is disorganized and has no voice? If so, your art does not show any signs of being mentally ill art. If anything your work is a triumph over your illness. It is well organized, symbolic, meaningful and skillfully done.

    I'm a firm believer that creative work is essential to a wayward mind precisely because it focuses and expresses the illness in a way that ultimately makes sense and clarifies aspects that normally, to the uncreative person, would be missed. Beyond that, if the creative work is shown to others even more insight can be gleaned from it. So keep up the good work Karen! I'm looking forward to seeing your Adam & Eve drawings and painting. You know it just occurred to me that someday you might try a stripped down Last Judgment scene where all your fanciful creatures can be given room to darkly struggle in their particular versions of hell. Does that sound dreary? But no it isn't, it is imaginative and captivating like a Bosch painting.

    Love, Kate : )


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