So much of cultural theory and art criticism is a dysfunctional branch of retailing without realising it. This leaves the very best of them, like Robert Hughes in his book about Goya, to perform the unpleasant task of clearing away the tangled mess left by all the others. It’s probably because we all find it very difficult to discriminate, or rather it’s easy to discriminate but very hard to feel sure about how we feel. But this difficulty makes equals of us all, and means in the end we have to work it out for ourselves.
I feel very clearly why Francis Bacon is a better painter than I am. In a burning building I’d be confident about grabbing his Three studies for a portrait of George Dyer and would leave all my stuff to the flames. But beauty is a difficult thing, particularly the brutal beauty of these portraits, and has nothing to do with “being beautiful”.
A person might believe they are being beautiful, or even the most beautiful, but only if they are particularly stupid or self attached. This kind of media driven narcissism gives the word ‘beauty’ a bad name. It’s why so many people got in a tizzy about Susan Boyle only having a beautiful voice, as if that’s not enough.
But all of us can find beauty waiting for us at the tips of our fingers when we are fully awakened by love. Suddenly the beauty pageant stops and we find ourselves holding Katherine Hepburn, Michelle Pfeiffer and Marylin Monroe. This connectedness can’t be voted into a top ten of beauties, is not about possessing one person compared to another. It is found when you awake and are being awakened. I try to apply the same standards to my own work and if I was braver about that, a lot of it wouldn’t make it out of the door.
I always feel that Goya is “better” than me, but more deeply I also feel that we simply accompany each other in trying to awaken ourselves and those around us. That kind of companionship makes this pointless job worth doing. It’s also why it takes someone as good as Robert Hughes to remind us that we can rely on nobody but ourselves if we want to be awake in this perplexing, dangerous and beautiful place.
I’ve been painting my way further into the characters for the Cabinet film, bits of them feel ok and bits feel less so. At the moment I’m liking very close up views of the surfaces with all their bumps and hesitations.