Today was a day. That is to say that it wasn't a particularly good day or particularly bad. It's just one of those days that's off. After 20 months of daily creative work, there are still those days. I'm pretty sure there will always be those days. Usually for me an "off" day means work that I really don't like or even absolutely hate. Today that's not really the case. The painting is fine. I struggled with focus and questioned my purpose. One thing I've learned though is that if the struggle continues for a few days, it's often the precursor to growth and change. So we shall see...
Before I take Swimming Studies back to the library, I wanted to flip back through it and record a few lines. I'm not sure how much sense they make out of context but I remember these parts struck me. They come from the chapter on Practice.
The arrangements of Jim's multiple sketches illuminate his practice, how he pushes past perfect moments of clarity to get something even better. His rigor is astonishing. My own sketches betray distraction and cross-fingered stabs. Spaghetti on a wall. Jim once generously described my work as "blithe."
Artistic discipline and athletic discipline are kissing cousins, they require the same thing, an unsocial practice: tedious and pitch-black invisible, private as guts, but always sacred. One night, over a second round of Bloody Marys at Fanelli's. I ask a few of my friends what they hate but force themselves to do. Bikram yoga. Child care. Work. Swim practice. We bang on the table. We firmly agree that one really ought to do something one would prefer not to do.
Whenever I begin a large project, and when, as a swimmer, I contemplate a practice, a mental image appears: a grayish Sisyphean mound I need to ignore in order to begin to climb. After twenty years I still search for the dumb focus I had as a competitive swimmer. After a hundred workouts I might be faster. After a hundred CBT sheets I might feel better. After a hundred lengths I might be healthier. After a hundred pages, a hundred sketchbooks, when will it feel right?
My fingers used to be pruney, from being in water. Now they're ink-stained. I replace my laps with stacks of sketches, and my teenage dread of workout with my adult dread of bad work. I fill sketchbooks with repetitive studies, happy only when the last page is finished and I can look back, pick out the handful of good pieces. I paint series after series: my dog, the trees in my yard, all of the glasses in the house; flowers, Parisian signage, hardcover books, leaves, movie stills, a reservoir view, a single pitcher, patterns, photographs of people playing charades.
During a cocktail party in a London home, I stop in front of a small charcoal drawing of a swimming pool teeming with bodies by Leon Kossoff. It is noisy, exciting, and alive. Kossoff, in a rare 2007 interview, age 80, said of his practice: "Everyday I start, I think, Today I might teach myself to draw.... It doesn't make any difference how long you do it, it's always starting again, one's always got to start again."