art,  writing

Death and the Sculptor

Lately I have been having trouble with my knitting, in a way that’s a bigger metaphor. Normally I am a focused knitter, with one project on the needles at a time. I mark my next project with delight, but don’t pick it up until I’ve finished with the one I’m on. Sometimes I’ll have two projects going; one mindless, the other something that requires concentration, but never three.  Discipline is something I’ve always been good at.

But lately I have been floating, unable to concentrate on any one project. I haven’t actually been doing much knitting outside of my knitting circle, which meets once a week for a few hours. I have a few things on the needles; a short row scarf in mohair, knee-high color work socks, swatches for the vest I’ve been saying I was going to make this winter. (Notice, it’s March.)  I finished a pair of fingerless mitts, but can’t find the motivation to even look up the pattern for a matching hat. I’ve started Level 2 of the Masters Knitting Program from TKGA, but after knitting the first few swatches and blocking them, I’ve put them down in the same distracted manner. I have no ambition beyond the current projects and every time I go to look at patterns, I feel very little other than stress at the idea of taking on another project.

I did some weaving and spinning in February, but like my knitting needles, the loom and wheel have also stood idle since then. Can I blame the traumatic end of the Season Three of Downton Abbey? Did all things die with —– ——-?

I admit that some of this has come about because I’ve been overwhelmed enough artistically that I’m feeling the need to justify the time expenditure of various hobbies. Outside of work, I spin, knit, and weave. There’s always something with string for my hands to be doing. What began as a hobby to keep me busy while other people watch TV near me has turned into something that demands regular thought and attention. On top of that, I take piano lessons, which means fitting in half an hour of practice as often as I can. I enjoy making music and I enjoy having the knowledge that I’m acquiring there.  Music is worth doing. But then there is The Writing Project, which is taking up so much of my consciousness that everything else feels like an infringement on the time I can spend there. The end result seems to be that my brain is always on, with very little downtime.  Well.  It’s no small wonder that I’m having trouble focusing.

Daniel Chester French has a sculpture that I love called Death and the Sculptor. The narrative of this sculpture is that a beautifully rendered marble angel visits an artist in his studio, as he works on a carving of the Sphinx, and stops his hand mid-strike, before the chisel can fall once more on the work. The sculptor looks up in surprise, clearly interrupted from that zen place of artistic absorption and focus. He is out of time and the work will never be completed.  There will be no more sculptures. I talk about this all the time as a terror of mine, but it wasn’t until I was showing it to an artistic friend that I realized why I’ve been so drawn to this sculpture for so many years.

It’s a particularly touching piece because the sculptor is young. There is nothing but potential in the smooth and neat lines of his body. The angel is beautiful – you don’t want to stop the angel from its work, but to watch the sculptor stop with his chisel in the air, not being allowed to let it fall against the marble one last time – it is a mournful, sad thing. I feel it intensely, because it is my biggest fear, beautifully memorialized.

Terror is not a conducive way to produce art.  I am feeling the stress, as I’ve side-lined everything in favor of The Writing Project, but also the disconnect. It’s not a creative block, but a difficulty in sitting down to do the writing, pick up the camera, work the needles, because I feel like there is so little time that there’s not much point in it.  I write in quick blasts – half an hour here, half an hour there.  I long for that sculptor’s penultimate day, where the work has been flowing and he has gone to bed satisfied, knowing that tomorrow will bring another day.

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