L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Trying to Balance the World

The saying goes something like, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention". I agree with that absolutely. Even with our eyes half-closed, there's enough wrong, enough gross imbalance in this country, in the world to fill us up with horror. And if we are paying attention, how do we keep ourselves from being completely swamped with despair? How do we go about our lives, consciously, without being crippled with depression? How can we find the strength to recognize and focus on all the positive and the good in our lives, when nearly all the news we get is negative? What is out there to give some balance, to feed us hope and some positive stimulus that, as sensitive beings, we need in order to function?

I struggle with this void all the time. I think I cope less well with this than most people. People I know, family, Facebook friends seem to have a better internal balance. So that they can be smart and informed about all the world's horrors, without losing their perspective. So easily, I lose mine. My outrage always brings out the warrior in me; I want to go out and fix all the worlds problems. (I must be some sort of egomaniac, because it never occurs to me that I might not be the right person for the job.) At its worst, my unfocused fervor to go into righteous battle makes me feel that - in order to be ready, I guess - I need to turn my life upside down. Sell everything, move "off the grid" or to another country, devote my life to one and all of the so many great "good causes". I need to turn myself inside out, because somehow I think that's the only way I can help save the world. And when I'm thrashing about like this, desperate, one of the first things I think to rid myself of is making art; what good to the world are the silly pictures of a whiny, middle-aged artist who paints himself in a dress?

(Sadly - or fortunately - I have to realize, I'd make a terrible "savior of the world". It seems I have the ego for it, and I'm a good organizer, but I'm no "leader of men"; I always make a surprisingly awful boss. Always say the wrong things, always piss people off. Desire and commitment are only part of what's needed to do - well, anything, really. You also need very specific talent and skills. Very few of which, in this case, I possess. And so, it becomes obvious, I am unqualified to save the world....)

I don't really ever question why I paint what I paint. But I constantly question what the point of it would be to anyone else. Especially in the presence of what I see in the art world: deeply feeling and intelligent artists, striving to say something meaningful with their work. Something that relates to and comments on the world as they experience it. I always feel a bit out of place alongside these artists, because I don't make art like that. I really don't try to say anything at all with my art. There is content, of course, but whatever is there comes about subconsciously. My primary goal is always to just make something beautiful. Often humorous, always beautiful.

But when I'm feeling a little less insecure, a little less self-conscious, I will allow myself some hope that my work does serve a purpose. It's hard for me - myself - to really understand, but maybe the fact that I make work that doesn't reflect the real world, that avoids any commentary on war or misery or any of the real inequities so much of the world faces, does some good. Maybe my "silly" work does some good. If I complain that there is so little hopeful, balancing information or imagery being fed us through the media, then I have to recognize that maybe I'm doing a tiny bit to give someone, somewhere, something of that. If I make paintings that contain some light of beauty or laughter - which is what I try to do - I have to believe that there might just be people out there longing for something of that. Just the way I, as a child, always longed for it. As I long for it now. And if I recognize that I have some sort of "warrior spirit", I also need to understand what it is I have to work with, what it is I was designed to do. What my small but specific talents might offer to a world suffering and overwhelmed with uncertainty and real ugliness. To be coldly aware of the world as it is and, at the same time, to have the desire to retreat into the soft chambers of human imagination and human joy are not mutually exclusive. And that is what I have to keep searching to balance within myself. And I hope that my work can, in some small way, be helpful for others trying to maintain that balance.


  1. There are not words to express my admiration for you & your work.

  2. Lovely. You are - too - kind, sir! Merci bien.

  3. oh man, i don't know where to begin, so i'll just say that i agree - the cold grim realities of the world cannot be undone by one painting of a man in a dress. this however does not invalidate the painting or by extension the painter. honesty and authenticity are in short supply. your work/s contain them. whether today, years hence, centuries hence, said authenticity will still remain in the work. 100 years from today someone could see your painting and identify with it, connect with it profoundly - it could bring them back from the edge or toss them a rope in a deep well; it could aid them, guide them to find something previously un-found. please continue doing what you're doing.

  4. Thank you so much, BP. "Guide them to find something previously un-found." Thank you for that, especially.

  5. Lovely, sweetie. I won't try to add anything to what you've said. Just - yes.

  6. Mr. O'Donnell, I learned of your work from Stephen Rutledge, whom I am to meet for the first time tomorrow in his garden. I am terribly nervous, for various personal reasons. Anyway, he wrote a blog post about your work the other day and ever since I've been poring over your work and your blog, and your wife's blog too (what an amazing person she seems to be). I hadn't intended to comment, I'm a terrible lurker, but this post forced me to say something. Your work is so gorgeous as to be mesmerizing, simply on a surface level the pictures are breathtaking, but what has made me think about them so much lately is the subject matter, the "silly" element, that silly element is precisely what gives the work its strange power, a power to disorient and shake up the viewer's preconceptions about gender, masculinity, every aspect of persona and even, dare I say, identity itself. It's these destabilizing, suggestive components embedded in such traditional surface beauty that gives your work its peculiar but powerful effect. This is what art is for, and this is what your art does. One function of art is to trigger a fresh re-engagement with "settled" questions, to provoke a new, more complex relationship with the world. To make something beautiful is certainly a worthy goal, yes, and you do succeed at that, it goes without saying. But your work does much more. By not trying to "say" anything "meaningful" about the world, by pursuing beauty and your own obsessions, you produce work that is much more meaningful than artists who attempt more topical or political themes. I could go on and on! Sorry for being long-winded.


    1. Wow, thank you so much, Ronnie. It's lovely to hear kind things about my work, but it means so much more when the comments are so insightful and so well said. I very much appreciate it.

      Have fun with Stephen, tomorrow. He's a delightfully odd fellow [hi, Stephen!], but - very - kind. And the house and garden are pretty damn sublime. [sigh]

      Thanks again, Ronnie!