Repent! #LifeLessonsFromArt

For the last eleven months, I have felt like I’ve been chained in Plato’s Cave, staring at the shadows of reality coming from whatever screen is feeding me a world in which I am not participating. Slowly, they’ve become my reality even though they seem unreal. Neil Gaiman said on Late Night with Seth Meyers that the job of a fiction writer is to create worlds that will convince the reader of their reality. He added that, currently, “we’re all wandering around a scenario that is, frankly, incredibly unconvincing.”

The bizarreness in the news is the worst written series I’ve ever watched. I can’t help but think that it is aided by our pandemic-induced isolation. By quarantining thoughtful people, we’re allowing the thoughtless to write the world around us. And it’s bonkers.

You’ve lived it, too. I don’t have to preach to any more choirs. Thank you.

I draw inspiration from art and its creation. Such is what it takes for me to survive under normal circumstances. Even more so now. Beauty is almost all I have (plus an incredible partner and two emotionally supportive dogs). But I’m isolated from much of what I find Beautiful and from many of the people I’ve surrounded myself with over years who have dedicated their lives to creating it.

I am ever fortunate to have a collection of things and books and knowledge to lose myself in. Art, literature, music, biographies, food, conversation. Yes, my cave is quite gilded.

But I want out.

I want to release the chains, jump over the fire, flee the cave and run until my legs will no longer carry me. About a hundred yards. I’m not in great running shape.

Until then, I’ll watch the images on the wall, hoping the show gets better as this season goes along. Season one was terrible. Why am I still watching? Because I can’t hug or kiss anyone outside my tiny bubble for fear it will pop.

At some point, I expect I will suddenly realize I’m out of the cave and have been for a while. It won’t happen all at once. The rock will slowly deliquesce without my even noticing until I’m surprised to find life has returned. Not to normal. It will never again be what it once was. That’s why I won’t notice right away. Just like I was gaslighted into isolation, I’ll be gaslighted out of it. Huh?I’m having a cocktail. At a bar? Inside?

What will that feel like? Will I have forgotten all this cave nonsense? In the face of what I guarantee will be some sort of post traumatic knee-jerking, will reality be convincing?

I imagine P.I. (Post Isolation) will feel like a painting and I.E. (the Isolation Era) will be a pentimento that will always be there, just under the surface.

A woman’s face revealed behind the Old Guitarist’s neck.

The word means “the presence…of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over”. Most commonly, a pentimento is a correction — like Vemeer’s Milkmaid (under x-ray a basket of clothing appears behind the legs of the maid) or van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Wedding (where figures in the underdrawing were arranged differently and had different hand gestures). Sometimes it is an entirely different painting — Picasso’s Old Guitarist, for example, in which a woman’s face is revealed. Sometimes it was done just to re-use canvases when the underlying painting was deemed not as good as the one that was to be put on top of it. It’s fascinating to study them.

The word comes from the Italian for “repent” which ultimately derives from the Latin paenitēre meaning “to regret”. Oh boy, are there going to be things to regret about the cave.

I grew up repenting from sin. I didn’t stop sinning, nor did I want to. I just repented. The jury is still out on whether or not I regretted.

Sins don’t have to be deadly. In fact, the Hebrew word חָטָא, has been wrongly defined for centuries. It means, simply, to “miss the mark” or “go wrong”.

If our lives are a work of art in progress, then sin is a screwed up brush stroke, an incorrect color, a hand painted in the wrong place. You paint over it. And in some cases you’re made to wait hours, even days, for the sin to dry before you can make any such pentimento.

The Isolation Era is my current canvas and it is not a masterpiece. Much of this is outside my control. Like trying to paint in the middle of an armed insurrection (#TooSoon). But, I’m picking up my paintbrush and looking closely at what needs painted over. I’ve made some sketches but nothing is resonating yet. I forgive myself while the current paint dries.

I might have to gesso white over the whole damn thing and start over. Who knows? But I.E. will always be there, just underneath. For the next dozen years, folks that look at my life will know. They’ll feel it. After that, the sin will fade. After that, someone — a historian maybe— will x-ray the canvas and see what I decided to change.

Mistakes need not haunt us. But we cannot erase them. And the true artist knows they will always remember what lies just under the surface of their most masterful strokes. Underneath, but still there.