photo by Charley

This is day 15 of Days of Unreason:

“Art often isn’t [nice] though it scrubs the soul fresh.” – Jim Harrison


What if painters see beyond the bourne,
and poets speak to beings gone and yet
to be?  Who speaks of “redness [that] talks
to my wound.”  Who breathes a “sadness
[that] will last forever” into a starry night?

If art scrubs the soul, it also scrubs souls.

Many an artist is built and blessed
by the beauty that flows into them
and through them.  Some are disheartened
and seek another canvas, a fresh sheet
of foolscap to begin again.  Art isn’t nice.

Is art therefore unkind?  Let art idle!  Thrust
boldly into life!  To summer’s rains bare yourself,
suck passion’s fruit and drink wines by candlelight!

Art is but the accessory of a life fully lived.
When life becomes rote, a dose of art take.
And take art with a dose of salt!

A little over a year ago, I joined Jillys2016 in a challenge called “28 Days of Unreason.”  She culled quotes from the poems of Jim Harrison in a book called Songs of Unreason.  We used the quotes as prompts; diving boards suspended over the abyss of poetry.  Jill is revisiting unreason, and I am skipping gleefully along.  Come and join the fun!

30 thoughts on “Cure

      • An excellent question! It would, perhaps, be easier to answer after performing research on the artists who have ended it — all pertinent factors. I only used those two as types. Van Gogh’s actual suicide letter to his brother was detailing how best to market his remaining paintings. Plath wrote poetry while institutionalized, and possibly on the day she ended it… I would have to look. However, she has a syndrome named after her (interesting trivia). I don’t have pat answers; obviously! But I certainly raised good questions!

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      • Both lived volatile lives. Van Gogh abused alcohol, often drank turpentine when he couldn’t afford liquor – for starters. There’s an interesting theory that it wasn’t suicide, someone took him out – they never found the gun. Plath was abused by her husband, Ted Hughes and had other problems that go with a highly strung nature. Both artists work continues to engage and inspire us, demands our attention and engagement with their work. As with Helen Martins work for that matter, who also ended her own life.

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      • Okay, for clarification… because I’ve been getting comments from other directions as well… I haven’t said that doing art, or being an artist makes a person crazy (as in many other cases, it’s a matter of the chicken or the egg). A close look at my wording will show that I believe a majority of artists live full, vibrant, happy lives. Quite a number of them live well into old age; sometimes just to spite themselves. I also am not saying that art is damaging (at all times); I’m just echoing the prompt when I appear to do that. I’m also not advocating “putting art in the garage and closing the door.” The word I used was “idle,” which is not something you want to do if you’re closing it up in the garage… especially, say, a car. Unless art has driven you over the edge. (Sorry, mixing metaphors!) Notice, too, I use the word “dose” twice towards the end of the poem. My poetic dose, is to get out and live… don’t turn art into the beginning and the end-all. …unless you want to…. In that case, forget you read my poem. 🙂

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  1. Plath & Van Gogh. There is a controversial statement in this poem, Charley. This could be a debate spark. Do you sacrifice your art for the sake of life? CAN you do that if you are a Plath or Van Gogh? Intriguing.

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  2. I read an interesting book by Kay Redfield Jamison, entitled Touched with Fire, that discusses the lives (and deaths) of various writers and artists, including Plath and Van Gogh. She researched the relationship between manic-depressive illness and artistic temperament. There definitely seems to be a correlation.

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  3. Interesting comments.Re Qbit’s and Lynn’s comments about separating (Plath’s and Van Gogh’s) art from their illness: I’d like to put forward they worked in spite of their depression. As to using the term ‘mad’ – ah, no. Driven to distraction, or despair then, the work is the desire to heal, to have an outlet. Telling such people to go and get some sunshine is meaningless. They’d probably think one is mad to even suggest such a thing. When life gets out of hand it’s creativity we all turn to in order to make sense of it. Helen Martin is a case in point as well. She eschewed everything, but everything, even daily food, in order to create. When the creativity is impeded by the individual’s circumstances despair, or madness if you like, may ensue. The insecurity (emotional, circumstantial) of all three artist mentioned is noteworthy.

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    • Perhaps the best way to see this poem is realize that it is addressed to people for whom the advice to “eat, drink, and be merry” works. I know it won’t work for people who have clinical disorders… depression or otherwise. Perhaps also my poem might be seen more of bad imitation of a van Gogh than an attempt at hyperrealism (or maybe more like a Jackson Pollack). I meant this to be a simple response to the prompt (especially “art isn’t nice”). In hindsight I should have just focused on the ugliness of some styles of art… and stayed non-controversial. 🙂


    • And see, I get that! More than you know. How do you know (after all that’s been said) that “Cure” wasn’t written by me for me? After all, it’s my medicine bottle in the photo. I run into the flames and often stay in the flames. It’s inside the fire that I see visions. But I won’t let my creative urges overcome my desire to have life and have it to the full (to paraphrase a fellow artist); I nearly lost my life to something other….


      • I’m surprised at myself I didn’t consider you had a personal stake in this. You having had to make the decision to not let the urgency of artmaking rule your existence entirely is an act of a mature person, I should think. An act of strength. I understand why you made this decision. I also had a terrific crisis, but in my case it wasn’t the drive to artmaking, but the influences around me at the time. Now that I live in the country, the ambition and the competition with other artists have subsided. I work when I like, not because I have to keep up with the art establishment, which is fraught with superficial envy. I’m bored with the elitist attitude of the gallery owners, artists who have ‘made’ it (there are exceptions), the rules of who is an artist, what is art and so on. It’s a relief!

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      • It’s always better to free yourself to be yourself (as Wilde said, “everyone else is taken!”). Play for your enjoyment, not for the critics or the fickle fans.


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