a still life of lemons and art

Soon I will have to sit down and mark my limitations and sketch what forfilling life I can lead within their parameters. It’s now sinking in that I will not recover from ME more than I have. And that I’ve already lost some of that improvement. It hurts.

pic by Keith Syvinski

I can’t sit down now because I’m still in the turbulence of a hormonal week. My feelings are not my own. My thoughts cannot be trusted. I question life and everything. I hurt very deeply.
It’s a tiresome affair to manage. Because no matter how unjust these feelings are, they are still felt deeply. These emotions and thoughts are caused by chocolate bars I ate last week, one every day for six days. It may have been the sugar, it may have been the soy lecithin. Something caused too much estrogens in my brain and I’m totally of my rocker.

pic by Jeremy Hanke

I have to wait until this clears my system before I can sit down and deal with life.

One thing that confuses me is how true and profound the thoughts are that too much estrogens provoke in me. Thoughts about life, the essence of life, the existence of man, the meaning of mine. Paired with the strong feelings I cannot help but wonder if there’s not some truth to them. If they should not be addressed, thoroughly. But I know I shouldn’t while I’m still weird in the head. Time will once again prove that this is not me, these thoughts are not me, these feelings are not me.

I hope soon to sit down and converse with myself about the real things. The parameters and living within the limitation thing. In the mean time life goes on, every day.

Today I’m rewatching an excellent British documentary about painting stil lifes.
It resonates with some things essential in me. Some essence of me as an artist. Of me as a human. Of me as a Dutchman. And of me as a chronic ill person.
I cannot sort these into separate labels. They overlap. And have something to do with the meaning of life.
It’s confusing and exhilarating at the same time.

To name just a few subjects they touch upon, in no particular order and in now way conclusive:

There’s talk about the importance of everyday objects in our life. Things you touch every day. Their colour. Shape. Texture. Handling. Weight. How they look in the different light throughout the day, throughout the year.

pic by Ruth Harris

You touch them every day. Your body communicates with them.
You see them. People are eye-animals, they revel in seeing things. When an object forfills its visual promise with an appropriate tactile experience perhaps even a smell, that’s simply heaven on just a common day. It’s what life, as a human, is about. In part.

The explanation of how Dutch society got to get a Golden century in the 17th century when money was flooding into the country and everybody was buying paintings to decorate their houses with and also selling houses just to buy one single tulip bulb or at least own paintings of tulips. While there’s still a Calvinistic streak running through us chastizing us that we should not be vain or enjoy possession.

Ambrosius Bosschaert, the Elder “Tulips in a Wan-Li Vase”, 1619

This importance to enhance your living quarters. This persists right up to today where IKEA caters to this need and we all long for something that’s displayed in adverts of Nordic and Japanese interiors.
(It makes me think of one of my dear books about Mexican houses. With warm colours and bold materials and much art of local history)

Somehow your house, your room, your things tie you to your place in life. Your identity. Your time of living. To your country. Its history too. You take your place in your era and in your location as you decorate your living surroundings.

Pictures in your house do something. But only as long as you keep seeing them, as long as they don’t become invisible.

IKEA art by Mike Toy, prone to invisibility.

I think there’s a chance for a new kind of “pictures”. No longer the posters that you frame and hang. No longer the mass catering IKEA does. Something else…
Something that ties you, your soul, to a wall, to a room. And reflects you back to yourself.

Ahh, the talk of shapes and composition. How mainly in Western paintings the light comes from the left. The documentary proposes that this is because we read from left to right. But they do not offer non-western still life paintings that have light from the right.
I think it’s as probably we prefer light form the left because we like to face south in daily life. And then the sun rises on the left.
Light from the left reminds us of this promising event, when the day is still young and full of opportunities.

This talk of the mechanics of art make that I see its components all around me, right where I sit, here at this cluttered table with a funny lamp beside my laptop and a cup full of colour pencils.
I see shapes and textures. Compositions and directions. I love it. Having an artist eye makes that you are never bored. Even if you cannot sketch anything because you are too weak to hold a pencil.

art by Milton Avery

Well, there are many things in this documentary that make me happy. That provide me with beauty in thought and sight.

Isn’t that the weirdest thing, that one can hurt so at the core and have questioning thoughts about the essentials and be happy at the same time?

Here’s another picture of shapes and colours and composition but also a story. I think it’s beautiful! All the round shapes…

affordable art by CorellaDesign on Etsy

I’d like to do this very much. So much it aches. So much that I have not thought about this for years, because the hurt was too great.
Now I’m thinking about it again. Want to do this. But I am crippled. Crippled with ME but more so with something else. With life, I guess.
I hope to sit down soon and flesh it out. Find a way.

Here’s the description the BBC website had of the documentary:
Apples, Pears and Paint: How to Make a Still Life Painting
“A richly detailed journey through the epic history of still life painting, featuring a range of delights from the earliest existing Xenia mural paintings discovered at Pompeii to the cubist masterpieces of Picasso.

Awash with rich imagery of fruit, flowers and humble domestic objects, this lively take on the story of still life encompasses the work of some of the genre’s greatest artists from Caravaggio to Chardin and Cezanne. But it also captures the surprising contributions of the less well known, including asparagus enthusiast Adriaen Coorte and female flower painter in the court of Louis XVI, Anne Vallayer-Coster.

With contributions from historians Bettany Hughes and Janina Ramirez, art historians Andrew Graham Dixon and Norman Bryson, and philosopher Alain de Botton amongst others, it opens up the huge social histories that lie behind the paintings and the fascinating lives of the people who made them.”


How to enjoy perfection

When something’s perfect it nurtures a deep need in me. It’s not an “Oh, that’s nice” kind of thing. It’s a fundamental, existential kind of thing.

Especially when humans are involved in the creation of perfection I experience a deep and total sense of happiness. Fulfillment even.
On such occasion I feel the full extent of being a human myself, of being part of a society and of the advancements that come from dedication, attention and precision. I feel very connected to the person who put in the dedication and created perfection. It’s like a dialogue and I am actively participating, even though all I do is observe or notice.

A perfect meal. A perfect performance. A perfect art work. A perfect wedding. A perfect urban project. A perfect piece of writing. A perfect scientific experiment. A perfect political summit. A perfect cup of coffee.
When things are just right, it gives enormous pleasure.

Seeing how things could be perfect is a trait many people have.
“If they would just….”
“If only they had….”
Wether it be crafting supplies or politics, if “they” would only aim a little higher, co-operate a little better, think things a little more through!
Then the world would be perfect.

I have a personality type INFJ (or INTJ) that revels in these traits. Both the need for perfection and the habit of seeing things in the big picture.
I think in broad concepts. I see the world as a whole, where everything is intertwined. Where everyone is connected. Both from the present and the past.
Reality gets me very frustrated because it’s nitty and in gritty nature and things seldom end up júst right.

When I was young I wanted to fix the world. “Just give me the reigns and I will wash this puppy clean!”
Minister of State, that was going to be me. (I was oblivious to the nature of politics, a game I don’t play well.)

When my brother died unexpectedly reality came right to my doorstep en kicked me in the shins. (and smeared poop all over my door and set my house on fire)
I was not having it. I would not accept a world where my brother would just die at age 19, from a natural cause. (myocarditis from a flu virus)
So I didn’t. I sat there, arms folded, glaring at reality, waiting for it to behave.
It didn’t.
Slowly I learned that life is not perfect and that I am no player in its match.

Now I still see many scenario’s in life that would lead to perfection, or at least a diminishing of human suffering, if only “they” would do so-and-so.
But I’ve learned to bear the frustration that “they” will do not. And that that’s ok. Because that is how life works. And reality.

I now try to identify and cope with trends I see and that will affect my life.

For example, around me the landscape changes. Nature will have less of a place. Animals will disappear. Silence will never return.
People are building things, operate factories, drive cars and trucks. This is life.
I would love for it to be different. But that’s a dream that’s never going to be.
So instead I will view my cabin and its little patch of nature as a little getaway form the city. No longer shall I compare it to the vast nature reserves of Norway or the landscape of historical Netherlands. When I instead compare it to the little post stamp gardens from the city, it feels so much better. I appreciate the bird species, the various bees, the hares that live around my cabin.
I appreciate what is, not what could have been.

Another example: the changes in society. People now live faster. They decide quicker whom they like, whom they dislike. There’s more shouting in the streets, less talking to the neighbour. There are more crowds and more unsanitary behaviour induced by crowds. Even entertainment is influenced by the larger number of people it serves: big plastic prevails. If it looks the part it’s good enough, it doesn’t have to bé the part. Illusion is magic enough.
As a society the Netherlands have long lost their trait of tolerance and hospitality (if we ever wore those badges rightfully).
Perhaps we need to because this country is growing fuller and fuller. When people live close together, social attitudes change, no doubt.

Instead of moaning about the good old times when you could leave your bicycle unlocked (and so many things were wrong behind closed doors) I could take an interest in the humanity flux. Observe it. Theorize about it. Pretty much like Desmond Morris did 50 years ago in The Human Zoo.

I could look at Japan and New York, to get an idea where the Netherlands could be heading. And what gems emerge in those two settings that might grow here too.
Gems in the sense of urban structures such as small vegetable patches on rooftops. But also in the urban society where new communities rise, gathered around subjects old-country-people could have never imagined. Dungeons and Dragons, Graffity and Skateboarding are some of these subjects I remember from the 20th century. I wonder what would be the current things.

But let’s go back to my desire to enjoy perfection.
Over time I have learned to curb my desire for perfection in the big things of life.
Life and death; politics; economical progress; education system; world health etc.
They are well and good out of my reach. And thinking I could define perfection in any of these subjects would amount to megalomania.

Then there are the slightly smaller things where I personally still have no influence over and where perfection depends more clearly on the action of specific people.
Fashion; TV-series; music industry; craft supplies; husbandry; media coverage; internet behaviour; monetary art appreciation; genetic manipulation of crops and animals etc.
I do well to stay away from expecting perfection in any of these areas too.
I could think about it though, how perfection would look like in any of these areas. But it would end up in frustration because it never will.
Better to realize the imperfections whenever I deal with any of these scenes and work with them. Remember that the paper lies exaggerates so don’t get worked up about something stupid or insensitive it reports. Realize forum users are just people, the majority of them good hearted (albeit a bit clumsy verbally). Get your crops from a farm far away from GM crops.

But I still have that craving for enjoying perfection. I would very much like to experience perfection in my life. It makes me feel alive.
So I turned to subjects that are under my control.

But I’d be a fool if I strived for perfection in the big things in my life. Career, marriage, my body, friendships, other things that are close to the heart. These are just the things that will cripple a perfectionist if she focuses on any of them.

Because these are the things that will never be perfect.
And these are the things that will need more time and energy to get to perfection than any human can invest.
Stay away from trying to make these things perfect.
Enjoy the kinks and wrinkles in them instead, they are illustrations of how reality works. Noticing and “forgiving” the imperfections lets you personally off the hook too, there’s no need to demand perfection from yourself in these areas. Just like you do not demand perfection from your friends, your colleagues or they way your body operates.

So I decided to feed my perfection-hunger in the small things of life. The things where 20% effort gives 80% result and the last 20% result do not require an 80% effort.
Things that do not matter if they are imperfect.
But when they are perfect, I enjoy them sincerely. The full bouquet of attention to detail, dedication and an expert sense for proportions, colour and material is to be noticed and enjoyed.

It’s like fine art. But with humble subjects.
Japanese martial arts, including the arts of Sumi-é and Ikebana, come to mind.

A perfect cup of tea.
Stroking the cat just right.
Arrange silver ware on the table perfectly.

I’m not talking about “enjoy the simple things in life”
I’m saying: “Scratch your perfection-itch with the small stuff. And get to work on the big stuff. Sweaty, fallible work.”

In my life I have chosen like this:
I’ll strive for perfection in cups of tea and hobbies and once in a while Japanese food.
As art and design need to be perfect in my mind, which is a personal opinion that I cannot defend nor escape, I have assigned them the label of “hobbies”. That means I get to play around and aim for perfection but results in reality are not mandatory. Public recognition as an artist is off the table. (I’m astounded, I just reach this conclusion, writing this paragraph)

Getting results, getting public recognition (for my sweaty and imperfect work), will be on the subjects that I enjoy doing but that do not wear the yoke of perfection (for me). They are writing (both scientific journalism and little stories) and illustrating (of those stories).
So that will be my job. (wait, what?! astounded again. This is it?)(It sounds like it.)(It’s logical.)(I’d love it.)

I know all this thinking is a roundabout way for organizing ones life. Who else thinks like that? But that’s the way I’m wired and that’s what works for me. I need some sort of conceptual structure of life, me and the world I live in. Some concept of how to interpret the daily hours for me to live in happily.
I blame INFJ:

INFJ’s always need to have a cause. People with this personality type always want to know that they are moving toward a worthy goal and may feel disappointed and restless if this is not the case.

You say it like it’s a bad thing…

Anyway. If that’s my trait, and I concede it is, I need a way to work with it. I think I’ve found one.
But I also may be an INTJ, I’m not sure. I do have mayor extroverted thinking going on and I don’t recognize myself in the airy, floaty image of INFJs that is often presented.
Either way: Introverted Intuition for the win!