One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

19 January 2014

The Yin and Yang of Duende

by Lyn StClair

We have all heard artists refer to the "muse".  The muse is inspiration from outside. Creating with passion also means listening to and acting on something deep inside. It often means defying logic and sometimes pushing ourselves in directions we don't consciously want to go.

The Spanish poet Garcia Lorca called this "duende" and described it as "a power and not a behavior, it is a struggle and not a concept...it sets blood afire…it exhausts and consumes us" He wrote "I have heard an old master guitarist say: ‘The duende is not in the throat; the duende surges up from the soles of the feet'."  

In his "Theory and Play of the Duende", Lorca wrote:
"Seeking the duende, there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles and makes Goya, master of the greys, silvers and pinks of the finest English art, paint with his knees and fists in terrible bitumen blacks..."

The best work comes out of responding to duende, this consuming "urge" to paint. It makes your heart pound....sometimes it seems to tear your heart right out of your chest.  When this feeling hits, I have to drop everything to paint and I will paint until wholly exhausted. 

Some paintings almost feel as if they are channeled...the hand with the brush pulls something out of the air that often surprises even me.  In addition to countless learning opportunities, in my opinion, these wild dances with the muse and "duende" produce the best work.

The other side of the duende fire...the "yin" side...is "block". As suddenly as it appeared, the inspiration may vanish...maybe right in the middle of a painting. I have learned to stop when that happens. For me, trying to "force" a painting to work often ruins it. At times, I may go a month or more without even going near the easel.

You have to let go and understand that periods of "non-creativity" are as essential to the artist as the frenzies of inspired work. You can't be creative 24/7...you need time to recharge.  When faced with "block", I try to do something different. I "chase" bears, hike, ride/train my horses, take a trip or dive into a book.  Sometimes I look for activities that may inspire future work…other times, I simply play. 

If you want to keep your work fresh, learn to give the muse a little breathing room once in a while. Stepping away can be just as productive as sitting at the easel...if you learn to turn "block" to your advantage.  

It is easy to get caught up in the rush of duende…it feels good, it is what we believe making art should be like.  Block, on the other hand, brings stress and suffering.  We berate ourselves for having "lost" our creativity or worry that we will not have the work we need for exhibitions and collectors.  The key is learning to perfect the practice of block…and to appreciate the opportunities it offers to reflect, consider, explore, experiment and learn.  

Have patience with your periods of block, honor that time to look within (or without).  Soon you will discover that the deep, dark, cool stillness of "block" is as delicious in its own way as the wild, heated rush of duende's fire!