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Painting by David Price

If it has been believed hitherto that the human shadow was the source of all evil, it can now be ascertained on closer investigation that the unconscious man, that is, his shadow, does not consist only of morally reprehensible tendencies, but also displays a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc. ~Carl Jung, CW 9ii, Par 423.

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have come to our real journey. — Wendell Berry

Beauty is not mere prettiness. It’s trueness, realness. Its force comes from a natural earthiness, even grittiness. Beauty has power. Surface prettiness is attenuated, weak.

When I began my art studies, I copied surfaces, and I was good at it, especially in sculpting faces and bodies. But I always felt something lacking in the result. I didn’t know how to find that source of power in myself because I didn’t have permission to feel it. Studying in Florence, I was introduced to kinetic methods that threw open the door to “shadow” energies that poured darker forces into my work in volcanic eruptions I hadn’t suspected existed in me.

At first, these intense psychophysical impulses were uncontrollable by me. I needed the teacher behind me crying “Bravo! Bravo!” or “Stop! No more!”

Eventually I learned to control the process. I ruined a lot of good work before I did, though. It took a few years to sense where emotional release stopped and artistic creation started. A completed painting needs both concentration of energy and space to breathe. That ratio is felt instinctively. It’s not mathematical. I had to develop that intuition over time, and I had to keep it sharp by consistent practice.

We think talent is inborn and full blown from birth, but it’s not. It has to be drawn out and honed and cultivated. Work, practice, making initial failures and clumsy attempts preceed mastery. It’s not a good idea to judge your early works too harshly. You can go a long way on sheer work. Talent is not the be-all and end-all. Your need to do the work is the best judge of whether you should continue or not.

I’m pretty sure that this rule governs writing too. Application will take you further than talent, in my opinion. That’s why I’m a little puzzled by the talk of writer’s block. If you commit yourself to the process, and something in you needs to do it, then judging results should wait for a good long while. The point is to draw out what abilities you have by practice.

If I hated to write or paint, I simply wouldn’t do it, but if I enjoy doing it and occasionally produce some good results, why stop?

Along the way, I would hope to find that source of power I know resides somewhere inside me. Once those parts of me connect up, I’m a writer, I’m an artist. For me, that’s where it’s going from the first beginnings. That’s when your true voice begins to speak. Maybe it has something it needs to say. Maybe that’s what the work to build a craft is all about.

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