This is not a self-portrait. As an undergrad at Middlebury College in the 80s, I took an oil painting class. I was on my second or third sitting of a painting of this bench, when I arrived to find another painter had hijacked my perch. Rather than giving up, I saw back a few yards and painted her into my composition. Becaise I also had my hair in a short, brown pony-tail and was wearing a blue sweatshirt at the time, I was pleased by how much she looked like me. The fact that the figure is “not me” reveals my ambivalence about myself as an artist. Then, as now, I worry that I have technical skills, but no burning, original vision to make me “good enough” to be an artist. Yet when I dip my brush into paint, I feel a sensation similar to what Elizabeth Bishop describes in her poem “At the Fishhouses“:
If you should dip your hand in,your wrist would ache immediately,your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burnas if the water were a transmutation of firethat feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,then briny, then surely burn your tongue.It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,drawn from the cold hard mouthof the world, derived from the rocky breastsforever, flowing and drawn, and sinceour knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.
Immersing yourself in a creative act—whether a painting or a blog post—generates a bone-aching sensation; it pulls you into a deep, mysterious core of knowledge, rooted in history yet fleeting as time.