Blink first, you lose (Photo by KCF, Buenos Aires, 2023)
I went on a date the other night, an artist date.
Anyone familiar with Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” (and if you are an artist of any ilk, aspiring or otherwise, you should be) knows the concept of the artist date:
“The Artist Date,” says Cameron, “is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic”– think mischief more than mastery.”
It is about replenishing and inspiring. It is about playing and coming alive, about becoming aware of the things you might have been overlooking in the hum-drum business of life. It is weekly because reinvigoration is a constant need and it is solo because artists need to know themselves if they are to create anything that might possibly ever move others.
And we are all artists, aren’t we?
I think so. Art is creation and we are all creators. Our every act is the creation of something that didn’t exist before. Our central biological mandate to proliferate is nothing if not a directive to create. What piece of art could be more daring, reckless and death-defying than the creation of another life?
I know this is an expansive definition and I have gotten into disputes over this as far back as in college when I tried to organize a group mural project. A talented artist in my dormitory belittled my idea, saying that art was made by trained people not amateurs on a lark.
Admittedly, I was a bit naive and over-enthusiastic. Likely the mural would have been a mess. That artist had a point. Without effort and practice and hard work, our artistic impulse is squandered. How many bad poems, ugly canvasses or, for that matter, poorly-raised children get put out into the world? We may all have the artistic urge, but not all of us put in the work that is required to perfect it.
Which brings us back to Julia Cameron. The success of her book is proof that the artistic urge is widespread and massive. It has sold millions of copies worldwide and I have seen it for sale in Spanish beside Messi posters at Buenos Aires newsstands. But it’s message is that to develop one’s inner artist takes hard work every day. Get up every morning and write three pages in your journal; these she calls “morning pages.” And feed your artist with inspiration by going on dates with yourself.
Which is how I found myself heading to the Centro Cultural Recoleta the other night to see an exhibition of the work of Renata Schussheim. I had just spent an hour in the dentist’s chair and perhaps the indignities of allowing someone to prowl around my mouth with latex-clad fingers and sharp utensils made me especially susceptible and hungry for another, better world.
Set beside a church and a cemetery, the Centro Cultural Recoleta is a playful, multi-colored place perched between death and the posh flats that surround it. An opening night crowd of artistic types filled the central patio with glistening plastic champagne flutes. Not seeing anyone I knew, I pushed through to the galleries, eager to see what was inside.
While Shussheim is best known for her work for the stage as a costume and scenery designer, it was her paintings and illustrations projected massively in a darkened hall that held me captive. Some were shown alone; others in groups of images. Many were slightly modified for this new, projected medium so that a woman’s hair would be moving slightly in the wind or the eyes of one of her mystical creatures would startle you by suddenly blinking.
In that same vast, darkened hall two figures dressed in Shussheim’s costumes rotated slowly on two spinning platters. Ostensibly, this was a display of costume designs but the figures themselves were so lifelike that I found myself staring at them, trying to understand them, as if they had lives. I was not the only one. I caught other people peering into those eyes, trying desperately to make contact.
As an artist, I was inspired —but also deeply humbled. When you see works of true art, when the make-believe becomes so real that you cannot find the seam, one inevitably has the urge to bow down to the artist who pulled it off. Bravo Shussheim!
The show inspired me but also made me painfully aware of just how much hard work still lies ahead.