Comfort Me with Painting

“Good  Morning, Heartache”
from the Colors of Jazz Collection
©2020, Molly Larson Cook
24″ x 18″  Acrylic on canvas



In a writing book by a man named Peter Elbow there is a chapter on revision titled, “Nausea.”  It always gets a laugh or at least a knowing smile when I teach writing classes and mention this.  And yet revision is the heart of good writing.  Without it, there’d be a ton more bad writing on the market than there already is.

I’ve been reviewing some of my paintings, mostly those I created in Mexico, with that sense of nausea.  The feeling that it’s all bad and I should just toss it.

It’s a lot easier for writers to do this – you just hit the delete key and it’s gone – a novel, a poem, an essay.  In days gone by, it was a matter of tearing up a paper manuscript, but had the same effect.

For artists, revision comes a little harder, although it’s definitely possible – grab the gesso, cover the canvas and start over.  But…but…but…

Writers are advised not to be too hasty about the manuscripts.  Don’t toss the baby out with the bathwater. Sure, you might need to rethink, rewrite, but not everything is bad.

As I’ve been reviewing these paintings, I tell myself the same thing.

Not everything is bad.

I’m aware, as I was then, that the Mexico paintings were created in a particular frame of mind and it was not a creative frame of mind.  I painted to escape.

I painted to escape the noise and the poverty and the hot sun and the sense of dislocation that I didn’t want to acknowledge.  I painted to fill time and not because I was inspired.

I painted to give myself the comfort of something familiar, the same way I headed to the same two or three restaurants in town because I had become acquainted with the owners, and though I can’t say they were friends, they were at least people who knew my name and welcomed me and didn’t need to ask what I wanted to eat or drink.

During the pandemic, the arts have had a boost in attention, if not a boost in our ability to show our work.

The Getty challenge was great with people creating living versions of famous paintings.

Lots of pages popped up on the internet to show people simple ways to create their own paintings.

Dance videos gave the toe-tappers a way to dance like nobody was looking although the world itself was watching.  Music, art, drama, every kind of creative activity has had its day during the lockdown.

And it’s been a glorious thing.  Who knows whether anything brilliant has resulted, but a lot of people have drawn comfort from it just as I did in Mexico.

Right now, I’m not painting for comfort.  I’m painting because I have a solo show coming in the fall with a big space to cover.  The thought of the show is comfort enough.

As for the work in Mexico, I’m giving myself time to rethink those paintings.  I look at them and think I might want to do something new with the canvases.

But I let them rest for now and, more than that, I thank them for the comfort they gave me, however they turned out, when I was a long from home on all kinds of maps.


5 thoughts on “Comfort Me with Painting

  1. Hi Molly,
    I have read a couple of Peter Elbow’s books. I am always interested in the books you mention and love the quotes you come up with. Would you consider a post about (or just a mention of) the books about art and writing that you have loved over the years? And regarding you Mexico paintings, you know what they say about writing – put it away for a while, sometimes a long while, and then look at it again with new eyes. xx

  2. I often think about how so many of us in the arts are blessed with long and active lives. I’m not counting the ones who sadly choose to tear their lives apart with drugs, etc. But many musicians, artists, writers, actors, and more keep on keepin’ on. Your piano is a solid companion these days and knows a lot about you by now! Joy is the right word!
    Love, M

  3. A wonderful message, Leo. And about Burning Man – I’ll bet you’re right!

  4. Hi Molly,
    Many years ago in the design studios in the architecture department at the University, we would spend the entire quarter designing a hypothetical building. In addition to the numerous drawings, we would build 1/4″ scale cardboard models. This was back in the dark ages before Sketch-up and other 3-D software.
    A few days after the final design review, several of us from the design studio would grab a case of beer and our cardboard models, heading out to a vacant field. We would relive the long hours working in the studio and the emotional stress of having our final efforts critiqued by visiting architects and professors. The evening would end with a mini-bonfire of our architectural models.
    It was solemn, yet cathartic to see 5 credit hours go up in flames. Some of the designs were good, most were bad. With this ceremonial end of the quarter we looked forward to a new design studio in the following quarter and the opportunity of designing a new building.
    Looking back, this end of the quarter ritual of burning our models might have planted the seeds for me to attend Burning Man.

  5. Dear molly — remember what I wrote about not feeling I had truly “come into” my best playing until I was 50? I still think this is so. However, now that I’m 85, I’m actually hearing MORE from my piano. (How did it know to sound so much better?)
    So — I just keep playing and listening. What a joy! Love, MJB

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