Why (for better or worse) Always and Never is the best thing I've ever done, and how we hammer them into a sword to cut daisies.

If you're an artist, it's a pretty common feeling that the best work you've ever made is work that seemed to move through you. You got out of the way for a few minutes and something unexpected happened.

It surprised you and, in some cases, it was much better than you thought you were capable of. My experience is that artists are happiest when they are conduits, not creators.

And that's often at odds with how we view creative people; we have a long-held idea that artists are uniquely bestowed with this thing called talent in order to bend the materials around them into expressions, through force of will.

But artists are more like lightning rods. They stick their heads up higher than the landscape and patiently wait for lightning to strike. They're effective regardless of their shape or size, because that part is superfluous. Their real goal is to attract lightning.

And, like a lightning rod, an artist's most effective tool may not be a paint brush, but proper insulation, in order to protect the things that it loves.

The painting above may not be much to look at. There is some interest in it as an abstract form, and the idea that you peek through the inorganic shapes to something softer and lighter. Maybe you can discern the image on the other side. On one hand that's all there is, until you scan the code.

It will take you this link: http://vonfluestudio.com/always.mp3

It's an audio file that I made, at first to get at the heart of what makes QR Codes (or any barcode) tick. It started as a dissection of a formal art principle, Contrast, and became a discussion on love and loss and holding on too tightly.

And, after it was done and I studied it again, I found it had a deeper point; about insulation, and how we are comforted by hard surfaces. And the paradox that we create with them.

We use absolute words like Always and Never because they are emotional expressions of contrast. They say "I Am". Which by being, creates a negative space, the "I am not." (Or scarier yet, "Someday I will not be.") Contrast motivates us. It gives solidity to our existence.

How many pop songs have the word Always or Never in the title. I Will Always Love You. You Are Always on my Mind. You Always Hurt the Ones you Love. Never Gonna Give you Up. There Will Never be Anyone Else But You. It's Now or Never. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together...

How many times have you used the words to define yourself or someone else? "You never do..." or "He always does..."

"You always diminish my feelings" "You never help out around the house." "When I was growing up, they always treated me like..." "You were always there for me, and now you're gone forever"

"I will never love someone like I loved you."

But those absolutes seem limiting to me. The accusations can be hurtful to people you care about. Relationships are complicated and hazy and these words, they have sharp edges.

And love isn't hard, and it doesn't seem to have a defined shape. Love, by being, doesn't contrast it's opposite. It's got no room for hate. It's a dizzying expression of a moment. Like the one when this picture was taken, when my son was helping me peel the tape off of this painting and I watched, and loved him and felt a blessing bigger than the moment that we existed in. 

Love is compelling because it's not an expression of time, it's an expression of being. And being is timeless. It makes you feel light and wispy and unattached. Love makes all of us into hot air balloons, floating on the breeze with no control. And when we stop to think, it can be terrifying to be unattached. To be walking around on sunshine. (that one's for Dreux)

Always and Never help us feel comforted, grounded. They shield us and tell us that we have some kind of permanence in this universe. Even if it's not here, where we feel and experience our biggest curse, that Mark of Cain on our foreheads, Memory.

But they are also the battalion of spies that murder the expression of a moment, Love. They are love's enemies.

Ever since the bolt of lightning that is this painting moved through me and onto the wood, these words have worked back out of the surface like rusty nails. I snag on them and unravel.

And so I've insulated myself against absolutes as much as possible. Maybe we all should, because they only seem to set up an edge so sharp, that it's too easy to fall from. Or push others.


Thanks for reading and your continued support. As always I'm interested in your thoughts, and whether this resonates with you. Maybe I'm completely full of it! Let's talk about it sometime.


Images: 1. The lightning rod salesman and the two little whisperers 2: Google's definition of the C word 3: Seth peeling tape 4: Always and Never (detail)

Bonus section! Cut from the essay above, for those of you with the saintly patience to have made it all the way down here:

The sad truth is that no one is ever one thing. People are prisms, shooting light out at all angles. Or curved glass, bringing small things into clarity (and sometimes making mountains out of molehills.) They can also focus the sun into a beam so strong that they can set the world on fire. And as we learned from Alfred, some people just want to watch it burn.

Who are the best villains? The ones who can show you a glint of their humanity. This is the only comfort we find without involving permanence, because a villain who can make us feel allows us the great gift of feeling justified. All of our mistakes don't seem so bad when you see what Darth Vader is getting up to, blowing up whole planets and such.