I know, it’s been two weeks since posting, and it was a while before that. But in fact, I’ve been busy. I thought you all would like to know at least I’m not just sitting and looking at YouTube.
Well… obviously I am looking at YouTube, who doesn’t? But it’s to learn things.
I finished the St. Benedict icon, packed him up and sent him off across the Atlantic, and dove without pause right into the next commission. It’s been a long time coming, and the client, the apparently endlessly patient Jeff, has been the soul of encouragement and kindness. I’m very pleased to finally be completely immersed in his piece. It’s not the one we originally planned, but this one really jumped out at me as the right one for him.
It’s an icon - properly speaking, being created as a model by a Russian Catholic iconographer - of the Mother of God of Fatima. But I’m doing something else, something new, in using the template but in the style of the sublime Fr. Anthony Gunin, a Russian iconographer whose style is in my opinion uniquely transcendent.
I have been looking at these works and a great longing grew to learn this complex and beautiful technique.
I got in touch with him on Facebook, and he told me that he’s producing a series of instructional videos which should be ready in October, but I couldn’t wait. I started just examining the finished pieces, and the preliminary drawings he’s posted, and analysing them as closely as possible to see if I could suss it out.
And today, I feel like I’ve turned another corner. I’ve sort of surrendered my anxiety to get the works done as quickly as possible. I wrote about it on my Art Blog page this evening: “Starting over; Slowing down; rejecting factory thinking.” I have at last admitted that if I want to bring my work up to the highest possible levels, I’m going to have to let go of the idea that the purpose is always to produce a finished work as quickly as possible. I have to shift my brain around to approaching each stage of the work as though that stage is the same value and importance as the final piece.
This means paying as much attention to the preliminary drawing as to the final painting.
Changing your brain to level up
Piecing together a new, and very different, method of approach just by close observation of the images, is turning out to be a significant exercise in braining. But it's also teaching me things about methodology and mindset; if you want to really level up, it's going to take an adjustment of the whole attitude toward working and creating a finished product. I can't be thinking about hurrying forward to the end result. I have to let it take as much time as it's going to take, and fully engage in and commit to every stage of development.
Slow it down: rejecting factory thinking
We have a culture in which getting the end product out as quickly as possible is the entire name of the civilisational game. One is judged at work on the factory mindset: as much stuff in as little time as possible. This is the foundation of our entire economic system, and now after 200 years of factory-think, our mental attitude towards work and life as well. We are so used to prioritising volume of production, eagerly sacrificing precision, quality, detail, that we've oriented our entire cultural mindset to it; we have become factory-thinkers.
Honestly, I’ve spent the entire Covid period working to switch my “main” work from writing to painting. In the end, I hope only to write on the internet to promote my painting work. My hope, my “aim,” is to completely transition, and to bring my painting up to the highest possible standard.
But, apart from having studied classical academic drawing, I was starting from absolute zero knowledge of iconography. I took one little course for six weekends back in the winter of 2019, and since then have done everything I can to immerse myself in the techniques, history, styles and theology and philosophy of iconography.
For a while I was disappointed in myself for not making the most of the Covid lockdowns. Weren’t we all? We all saw the people doing home exercises, learning new crafts, making beer and sewing and all that. But now I realise, I was giving myself a home-school course in this new form of art. I’ve never been a very diligent student, but looking back on the last 18 months, and thinking about the seven commissions I’ve finished, it is fair to call that period a time of growth.
"You're not going to hit what you don't aim at. And you're not going to hit what you aim at and don't shoot at."
I’m finally accepting that this one’s mine. This is my target. I’ve been intimidated and frequently have fallen prey to procrastination, but the desire to go forward has, so far, won out.
Though it seems paradoxical, I think one of the ways we procrastinate is to try to make things happen faster than they should, to try to cut corners and find easy ways to do hard things. But we shouldn't be surprised. I'm learning that the urge to procrastinate comes from a similar mindset; anxiety. We are anxious to get it done, to finish a work and get on with next one. We feel pressure to perform and produce in the factory way. Procrastination is really a type of avoidance; we are afraid of getting entangled in something beyond our abilities, so we shy away from it. I think doing things in a shallow way, refusing to dive deep into a commitment to excellence, comes from the same fear.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to teach myself this new method of egg tempera painting for icons. I’m trying to level-up, as the kids say these days. And brother, it’s not been easy. But I’m starting to be pretty confident that this is the way I need to go. It’s this that I need to aim at.
Jordan Peterson is always telling everyone to find something that conveys meaning into life and work, and to "take aim" at something truly valuable. I suppose this is a step toward that; dropping the fear of deep commitment.
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