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A Work of Art

I’ve started working on this project again, after nearly two years.  I think my attitude towards it has changed, and I’m more comfortable with it.  One important detail is that I got excited reading the drafts, posing the hard question: which draft will I take, or should I just rewrite these anyway?  How do I deal with the complexity of a novel, writing chapters not in order, filling blank chapters that I may not be as excited about as others… So today I decided to turn off the Internet and the phone (that was easy, if you know my aversion to the phone), and work.

Here’s an excerpt, just a paragraph really.  The story is about a painting of a young man after an encounter, and how the painter falls in love with his art and his subject.

He woke up at ten past ten, the hands of his alarm clock spread in panic. He had to open his shop at eleven, and he was sure there would be a customer waiting at the door as there usually were on Friday mornings. He also remembered that he had a few small frames that he had promised to finish by the end of the week. He needed to get up.

He made a detour on his way to the bathroom to see his painting in the living-room, and was struck by the scene of the painting itself in the midst of the makeshift studio with his clothes abandoned on the floor, as if the artist had left this world to enter the painting, mimicking the fantasy he had had the night before of embracing it. The artist putting all of himself in his art, or his art swallowing him. The living-room as it was, including the image now on the easel, would be the inspiration for his next tableau. He made a note to get a new canvas today, a larger one to contain that new idea.

And here’s the same scene, in the artist’s journal style:

The true revelation came in the morning. I woke up late and needed to rush to the shop, and on my way to the bathroom I looked at the scene I had left. That was what I needed to paint next! There were clothes on the floor, shoes and jacket abandoned behind the easel, pants and shirt and underwear a few feet before it. It was – and would be, on a new painting – as if the artist had stripped naked and entered the painting, putting all of himself into his art. Yes, that’s what the painting showed: all of myself. And then the scene before me just represented a kind of miracle. If I remembered catechism, I would be able to give a name to the transformation of a body into spirit. Maybe it’s transcendence, transfiguration, or something like that.
I had to leave the scene intact – even my footsteps on the rug felt sacrilegious – get a new, bigger canvas from the art store, and start on number two of my new series inspired by that chance encounter of the beautiful young man at a café in the Marina. My muse.
I felt so excited that I wanted to calm down. The rational voice in my head kept repeating that I had to come back with my two feet on the ground because critics would demolish it, dismissing it as juvenile and grotesque, not worth even the price of the materials. I hushed the voice as much as I could, because for once I had painted something for myself. It would not be for sale and subjected to other people’s judgment. For the first time in my life I didn’t need someone else to validate my art. This definitely felt good.
Reason came back to haunt me with money matters. Of course, art was only a black hole sucking cash in. My mother had warned me about it, and the irony of it was that I could set up the framing shop with her inheritance. That too wouldn’t figure in the recommendations of a “business for dummies” book. The fact was, at the moment, I had no money to buy more supplies. If only Sam could reimburse me now for the cost of his gigantic frame, I could borrow from the store’s cash flow. I should have asked for the money up front. I decided I would call him.

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