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Peeks and Piques!

Sanctum Sancturum

ART TIMES April 2008

WE ARE ALL familiar with the stereotypical picture of the oh-so-sensitive ‘artiste’ with angst-ridden face, hand on hip, other hand to forehead — palm out — and elbows akimbo. An oft-repeated and surely exaggerated characterization, yet, as with most stereotypes, one that still retains a kind of clinging ‘truth’ to it. Pose or no pose, artists — leastwise ‘serious’ artists — are sensitive and, admitted or not, long-suffering. And, moreover, there is a reason that this is so — a reason that has caused the hand-to-forehead caricature to persist through history. No matter the discipline, the creative personality is tuned into a mysterious source that, to date, has not really been fully identified, analyzed, or adequately explained. In the past, creativity was believed to be “heaven-sent” — “inspiration” literally meant “breathed into” by some divine source — and that the artist so endowed with some form of it was somehow special, “chosen” — “called” to his/her profession, if you will. And, although the making of art — and again, of any discipline — has been largely turned into a commodity, there are some few left who still feel that their “art” is somehow unexplainable, somehow “coming into them” from outside. In general, I’ve found such artists to be less glib about their output, more humble about their “accomplishments”, less prone to exhibit, perform, or market their products. Some refer to it as a “gift” that is not theirs to “sell”, others as a “burden” that they neither asked for nor overly enjoy possessing. All — at least of these “serious” artists — will — when pushed — admit to a need to protect their “inner sources” — even if they cannot easily explain what they mean when they say this. It’s just a given and they really don’t want anyone tampering with that source. The outward manifestation of this — well, let’s call it a predicament — is the study or studio; a “sanctum sanctorum” into which they retire from time to time, to either create or simply mull. This inner sanctum is not always a place that is readily open to the public — one doesn’t just barge into a study or studio (or ought not, in any event) — and, in most cases, one enters only after invitation. I knew one artist who had two such retreats — a studio she used for painting and which was strictly off-limits, and a second, which displayed her work and into which she would invite guests. Since I had come to profile her for a magazine I once wrote for, she allowed me a peek — but only a peek — into her private space, a space that not even some of her closest friends were aware of. “I just kept feeling that my ‘creative’ haven was being violated — desecrated — so I had this built some years ago,” she told me. “Not even my husband was allowed in.” Such spousal understanding is not universal. I’ve heard all too often the expression that “they just don’t understand” and, when you think about it, it’s not all that surprising. Creativity — and particularly its ultimate source — continues to stump the experts. Oh, there’ve been theories — tons of them; but most artists take them with a grain of salt. All they know is that they are blessed/cursed with the irresistible urge to create in spite of all drawbacks, negatives, smirks, mockery, lionizing, indifference, praise, or financial success/failure. None of it matters — and the only thing that does matter is to let loose with song, paint, or dance when they are impelled to do so. Some survive the impossible task. Others do not. But whatever they do, artists have learned not to rely on others to understand. All they can do is shield that special place from ignorance: or suffer it to be destroyed by those that willfully or carelessly violate it.

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