Sunday, June 19, 2011

Final Resting Places

This first week of painting while being mindful of the end of the earth, I decided to finish an old painting I had begun over a year ago.  It is a watercolor of a wild ginger plant (previous entries about this painting can be seen here:

The painting had a base coat that delineated the veins in the leaves and the stems and the small basal flower.  It had been awhile since I worked on this painting so I took my time mixing the colors I needed before putting brush to paper.  There is nothing worse than ruining a painting with your first brushstroke of the day.

While painting, I was thinking about the end of the world and it occurred to me that part of creativity at the end of the world would be to go back and finish up some things.  As time draws to a close, there is a need for a sense of closure.  If one has time to see one's end coming there will be time to put some things in place.  With human life coming to a close, culture will be completely decimated and revealed as the facade that it is.  In this state, what kind of role could art and creativity possibly have?

One role would be to make things whole by preparing for the end - to put things in their final resting place.

One aspect of this would be using creativity to complete things that are still undone.  I don't think I would worry about completing a particular painting that had been sitting around for a few years.  Then again, finishing it might give me peace.  But as I look around the world that is left I would probably see things that just seem wrong - out of place.   There will be fewer and fewer people to track the volumes of "stuff" we have created and I am sure it will be strewn about from wind or thoughtlessness.  How much of my studio and house (especially my tool bench) are taken up by old things that I will never use - that others will never use?  How many paintings have I had sitting in my studio for years?  Will this be my legacy to eternity, that I collected and created useless stuff and left it lying around?  It would only be fitting considering the consumerist culture I live in now.  But at the end of time, perhaps the best thing we could do is put things in their rightful and proper final resting places, which might mean getting rid of them completely.

As I work on the wild ginger painting, I am focusing on putting things in their proper and final resting place.  I already have a painting that has a few stages completed.  I am now pushing edges back by darkening them, bringing edges forward by warming them up.  Areas of the leaves need to feel more like a surface, so I am placing grey/light blue over whole areas.  I am taking the structure that already exists and adding colors to create surface, to create a sense of life.  My goal is to place every square centimeter of the painting in its final resting place.  When I step back to critiqued my progress I am looking for unsettled places, places where my eye (my heart) cannot rest.  If I cannot find rest, I have to go back in and rework that area more.  My painting won't be complete until the entire painting feels at rest -- when each stroke, color, value and surface feels in its proper and final resting place.  Then, and only then, do I know that it is done.

At the end of the world it is much harder to put things in their proper place.  We obviously have not been good at putting things in their proper place, otherwise the world would not be coming to an end.  It would be understandable in our present condition if one's life ended feeling disrupted and out of sorts.  The act of putting objects and relationships in their proper final resting place can help to make the soul less disrupted, less aimless, less hopeless.  It can be healing.

My thoughts are that I would take all of my useless stuff and compact it into an area where it is out of the way, so it has a small local impact instead of a broad impact. I would like to make a game of it.  When our population is down to a few hundred, we could have competitions to see who can hide or destroy the most debris.  Perhaps I would burn it all up and leave no trace of it.  I need to make space for the world again to be what it will without me -- without us.  It is the respectful thing to do in response to our decimating the planet.  Then I would go about trying to put bigger things in their rightful place.  Perhaps I would become the last Johnny Appleseed, planting trees throughout the land to replace the forests humans had destroyed centuries earlier.  I wonder about creating an art piece that might be found by others visiting our planet or if life here ever became self-aware again.  Perhaps a highly evolved squirrel might one day climb onto a stone sculpture I created and recognize that someone as intelligent as it had been here before.  Perhaps not.

And this brings me back to questioning the relevance of creativity and art at the end of the world.  If no one else is going to see it, what is its relevance?  Obviously, art at the end of the world will not be created for  others to consume (is that all it is now?).  It will go back from where it came -- to ritual, to healing.  I wonder if there is a way to begin putting the human race and its impact in its proper place?  Is there a way to gather all that we have done, package it up and store it away so the next world can have its own go at life without our leftovers disrupting it?  That is, once the environment becomes inhabitable again.  As an artist, I like  to think that we creatives might best be able to look out at the canvas of this planet and recognize how best to put things in their final resting place.  We've already done this hundreds of times with our art.  Perhaps the most important art piece we'll ever create as a species is our final resting place - the planet we pass on to the rest of eternity.

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