I’ve been thinking about art again. I know, I know, but take it as a warning like when Jon Carroll announces up front that it’s going to be another cat column. Cats, art, it’s all the same.
So here’s the deal, it’s been cold and gray outside and in, for the last month and I haven’t been shooting very much. I also haven’t been writing all that much and experiencing frequent days of funkiness: nothing major, just the usual free-floating anxiety mixed with a bit of regret, a touch of homesickness and a soupcon of anger (I always wanted to use that word).
Then a few days ago, Marcel called to say the horses had arrived and plowing would begin this week. Photo-op.
Plowing is necessary to turn the weeds under, adding organic material to the soil, to fertilize and to loosen the soil allowing it to capture the rain. Plowing with a horse or mule is no longer an every day thing but in some of the older and steeper vineyards there may be no other way. Vines that were planted before the use of tractors became widespread are now too close together for a tractor to get through the rows. Of course this is also part of Marcel’s organic process, his desire to work close to nature and perhaps a part of his own need to test himself. The vineyards need plowing and if the terrain will not accommodate a tractor, he’ll get some horses and learn how to do it himself.
I photographed the process from shoeing to grooming to plowing. I can’t be sure of the horses but I felt better and of course, when I got home and poured a glass of wine I had to wonder why.
I used to spend a lot of time thinking about what makes something art (www.stageimage.com), but I was cured of that by going to work at SFMOMA where I learned that art happens when an academic finds something to write about and a rich person finds something to buy. And now that I’m preparing an exhibit, I just figure that anything I choose to put on the walls is art. But I still had to deal with the persistent image of the obsessed, alcoholic or drug ridden unhappy artist and how to reconcile this with the realization that making my art made me happy.
Researching the connection between artists and depression turned up a number of theories including an excess of spirituality, social isolation and the lack of a life plan, plus long lists of famous depressed people and countless pharmaceutical ads. So we have diagnoses coming from all angles, the hypothetical psychoanalysis of the long dead and the current fashion among the famous to admit that you’re not just bummed out, you’re really sick.
A couple of interesting notes on artistic productivity:
- Vermeer made only about 50-60 paintings and had 15 children with his only wife. He died at the age of 43, poor and depressed because he could not support his family. Imagine how she felt.
- Picasso made an estimated 50,000 works of art, had numerous mistresses, four children by three women and died a wealthy man at the age of 91. His “blue period” is now thought to be the result of depression.
But the internet can also be a dangerous place. Here are a couple of favorites from sites that purport to be sources of information on mental illness:
- “Who are some famous people with manic depression or bipolar disorder? Disclaimer – the list of people mentioned on this page have been compiled from other sources, and we are not able to verify its accuracy.”
- “I think you’ll agree that you can be mentally ill and fabulously talented at the same time.”
There is some serious research work being done but no one has yet been able to establish the link between creativity and depression or to determine which is the cause and which the effect if there is a link. In the meantime I’ll make pictures and hang them on the wall.
Today is warm, sunny and windless. That makes me happy.