Two men gaze up at a painting, with its array of colors, and discuss the meaning behind it. Its lines and strokes jettison in every direction, giving little in terms of form, and yet, in their entirety, coalesce into an image of ordered chaos. Musing longer over the piece, just as Jackson Pollock’s hand went where it wanted to go when he painted it, one man’s mind uncovers an interesting question.
“What if Pollock had reversed the challenge? What if instead of making art without thinking, he said ‘You know what? I can’t paint anything, unless I know exactly why I am doing it.’ What would have happened?”
And the man next to him comes to the crux of the issue, as he states plainly, “He wouldn’t have made a single mark.”
This scene from Ex Machina (2015) represents the great struggle of artists. While many would purport that they are in control of their ways and that their art is reflective of a grandiose plan, the untamed elements, things that cannot be known, might still hold a greater effect. A universal sense of randomness, at times, seems to be the guiding force of artists’ successes and failures.
This struggle is rooted in the idea that artists, or people in general, know what is considered great or successful. Looking at Pollock, what could one truly say about his form, his ability, and his craft when his method could be boiled down to pure randomness? In the end, his pieces have garnered praise and appraisals beyond conceivable belief, but in the moment, could Pollock pinpoint the moment his canvas became unlike any other?
In the music industry, seated at the right hand of grunge, Kurt Cobain was plagued with a great intestinal pain and discomfort. The documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) sifted through Cobain’s recordings and diaries. Though he said much in public interviews, the documentary revealed just how tied he thought his music was to his internal bodily anguish. When Nirvana broke into the mainstream, with new resources at his disposal, Cobain worried that curing his ailment would quash the emotional inspiration that came through and with it. Even then, could he be sure the torment was truly the cause of his success?
Discovering new talents or succeeding in new things is not a feature pre-programmed into the makeup of our daily lives, but an active process that we are a part of. Uncovering and understanding ourselves is the greatest way to reach for inspiration. For artists, as well as ourselves, the laurels on which we will build our lives might have an origin in the intangible, unascribable elements that are hidden inside of us.
We may not find the answers as to why we triumph and why we flounder, but it may be of a small amount of comfort to know that the answer to both those questions may lie in the same place—within.
In the meantime, all we can do is make our mark, without any notion of what or why we are doing it. Our mark is not one characterized by style, perfection, or uniform thoughts. Our mark is one of action.
“Do or do not, there is no try.” This thought from Yoda is not a call to thought or understanding, it is simply a call to action.
There is a sentiment of solidarity in knowing that none of us has a clue. In the age of information, we may feel entitled to the reasons behind everything. But at some point, we will have to come to terms with the unknown sources of power, knowledge, and skills driving us forward. Trying to subvert that fact is disingenuous. Instead, find solace in such uncertainty, knowing that the alternative is as far a cry from yourself as you could be—pretending. Get a clue by knowing you do not have one.
The caveat to making our mark is that our time is short. Before long, our marks will make way for new ones, leaving only memories. The aptly-titled “Change” by Blind Melon enthusiastically champions that idea.
“I want to write my words on the face of today / And then they’ll paint it.”
Featured Image By Associated Press