The Archetype of Inspiration

"Duende" - Work In Progress
"Duende" - Work in Progress

Late in this cruel season when the sun

scourges alike the city and the fields,

parching the stubble and sinking into slums

where shuttered hovels hide vile appetites,

I venture out alone to drill myself

in what must seem  an eerie fencing-match,

dueling in dark corners for a rhyme

and stumbling over words like cobblestones

where now and then realities collide

with lines I dreamed of writing long ago.

(Baudelaire, “Tableaux Parisiens”)

This poem of Baudelaire’s speaks so much about the need for reverie as an open source from which creative inspiration will flow. Baudelaire ventures out into the world but allows his unconscious mind to take over. He duels with another part of himself that lies hidden until called forth through reverie. This other part of himself presents itself in many forms in his poetry- sometimes a phantom, sometimes a seductive woman, sometimes a malformed dwarf. But in all cases, it is his guide. It is combative and does not always concerns itself with his ultimate good. But it is a passionate relationship that reveals Baudelaire for who he is. He could not write without it because it presents before the poet, not just things on his mind, but things he had yet to imagine. It is this spontaneity that we recognize as genius. It is not rational but surprisingly irrational. And as Edward Hirsch states,” Duende, then, becomes a name for a radically accelerated process of creation in which everything is at stake.” (Edward Hirsch,”The Demon and the Angel”,  P.54)  One gets this feeling in Baudelaire’s poetry as well as Dostoyevsky’s main characters. In “The Gambler”, one cannot help but feel the rapid pulse, the sweat and anxiety of  Alexei Ivanovich as he risks everything to tap into his own version of duende or diamon– a dark force that will allow him to see the right moves in order to become a “big” winner where all is on the line. His flaw is his desire to control this “other” instead of allowing it its own space to speak and inspire. Once one calls up this diamon, one must live with the consequences.

In a sense, all the work one produces as an artist is an image of this “other” self. It is this alternative self- portrait, that in a way, reveals more about oneself than one at first recognizes. In a way, one can only produce one story, one myth in which both oneself and the “other” dwell. This archetype is at the core of our being and it takes a lifetime to uncover it. Yeats believed,”… that for each of us there existed one archetypal story, a single explanatory myth, which, if we but understood it, would clarify all that we said and did and thought.”(Ibid,p.65) It sounds a bit like Fate but one can think of it more like a parallel universe that we have a window into and can draw from to produce work that is more powerful and surprising than if we rationally developed an image. This irrational aspect of ourselves reveals to oneself what we fail to see. This “other” self is like the jester or fool who shows the king the true state of himself and his affairs.

As Baudelaire found out through his own quest for images, once that daimon is out, it must be attended to. It will pursue one until its will is done. Many times when I am working on an image that reaches into that space, the muse or diamon of that piece will not let me rest until I have a grasp of the form it wishes to take. It pursues me in my thoughts and dreams until I make it real, as it wishes to be known. I have to say that in most cases I gladly accept this “possession” but there are many times when I am having difficulty with an image that I wish it would let go of its hold on me. But alternatively, it is only when I am in the battle that I feel myself alive and intensely engaged in the world.


A reminder that I’ll be teaching “Figure Painting and Palette Development” at the Woodstock School of Art from June 14th to the 19th, 2010, 9am – 4 pm.

Figure Painting and Palette Development Workshop

Image of color combination used by Robert Henri

During the week of June 14- 18, I will be giving a workshop at the Woodstock School of Art. In my blog I have covered many issues regarding Robert Henri’s use of color and the spectrum palette. I will spend a significant amount of time in this workshop demonstrating these ideas and how to apply them to the figure as well as one’s own work. Each participant will mix the spectrum palette that corresponds to their own choice of colors. Taking this palette we will expand it to a harmonious palette of 12 colors that relate to the spectrum band. This will be the solid foundation on which we will do further exploration covering a set palette; a limited palette based on chords of H.G. Marratta as expressed by Henri; a limited palette of primaries with varied intensities- i.e. Frans Hal’s palette.

In the process of working from the model, we will develop etudes to express our color objective and use these as a reference to enlarge upon our ideas for the image. The model will provide for the concrete application of these color theories and explorations. We will touch upon Cheveral’s theory of harmony of sequence as well as his theory of colored edges. We will also concentrate on color temperature, developing a map that allows us to grasp the variety and unity of temperature and merge this with our observation of the model.

By working through this experimentation with one’s palette, the student will become knowledgeable of all the possibilities that lay before him hidden in his palette. One will no longer have to rely solely on mixing the same phrases repeatedly to achieve a sense of harmony. It will also heighten the students sensitivity to color and increase one’s color memory. Once the student becomes acquainted with this type of working method, he will be able to carry on further experiments in his own studio. The objective is to become familiar with the theory, experiment in several modes and give it concrete application through the use of two models over the course of 5 days. The student will leave the workshop with a chart of the spectrum palette; two studies of a chord palette; Hal’s palette; two or more etudes and two paintings worked toward completion.

I will take any inquiries through the blog or my e-mail:

Material Imagination

What is the origin of one’s creative ideas or source of one’s imagery? Although, I myself, am constantly creating new images, I find this question of interest too. Pinpointing the source of images or dwelling on the moment when the image arrives or creating the space for what is calling for expression to rise up are of profound interest to the artist. My blog has sought to focus on this as well with what I feel is a hallmark of creativity- that being attentiveness. In Edward Hirsch’s book, “The Demon and the Angel” he uses Lorca’s idea of Duende as the starting point to locate that inner material or spiritual energy that will transform the artist’s intentions into the poem or dance or painting. Duende is the vital source from which all great work emerges.

Duende could also be described as prima materia in a Jungian sense. This primary matter is described as dark because it is hidden from consciousness and cannot be seen clearly. It is similar to what physicists describe as “dark matter” that exists in the universe- we know it is out there but we cannot clearly identify exactly what it is. There is an earthly connotation to duende because it springs from within or as Rilke describes it, it descends from above to join with earthly matter. Images appear in painting and literature that are direct descriptions of this dark underlying force. In “The Black Stallion” by Walter Farley, the stallion represents that force vividly. In the scene where the boy takes the Black to the race track for the first time, he mounts the horse in the dead of night and races, letting go of the reins and clutching the mane with white knuckles. The boy loses consciousness because of his inexperience and the tremendous speed of the Black.The trainer must mount another horse to bring the boy and the Black to a halt. And he must pry the boys fingers from the stallion as the boy descends into a faint.The Black could be nothing else but duende personified.

Rainer Marie Rilke explains the necessity of attentiveness (for duende) as a ‘consciousness of death’. Consciousness of one’s mortality becomes the impetus for one’s creativity.We must “seize the day”. When one comes face to face with death, not always a literal death, it creates a compulsion within the artist to complete the work and bring it to fruition. Time becomes the chariot, driving one along, the horses moving at break neck speed. One feels compelled to attentiveness and to accomplish the task at hand. Bringing any image to reality in the world is a kind of death to self- where the ego lies. It can also be described as a kind of ‘possession’- the image takes charge as it seeks form. Baudelaire, Delacroix, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy describe it as such. Sometimes this possession takes on an imaginative form. Baudelaire once described a dream he had where his companion in the dream was a ‘dark figure, almost dwarf like, crude and malformed who followed him, always appearing out of the corner of his eye’.

Hirsch states that Lorca’s poems were filled with what Lorca called “hecho poetico(poetic fact or poetic event), images that followed a strange inner logic ‘of emotion and of poetic architecture’, metaphors that arose so quickly that in order to be understood they demanded a sympathetic attentiveness, a capacity for rapid association and for structured reverie, and a willing suspension of disbelief.” (Edward Hirsch, The Demon and the Angel,p.5) Lorca’s idea of rapid association (or the ability to link objects and ideas metaphorically) relates, I think, to the artist’s sense of intuition. Although, most artist’s work in isolation it is amazing how years later when their work is viewed it is seen as having a direct association to a larger context. Intuition taps into a form that lies hidden under the surface of things. Intuition allows the artist to believe in his own solitary voice and that his voice matters. Intuition gives one a key to embracing a deeper center. It allows the artist to see hidden associations and relationships between things. It allows one to recognize forces that lie outside oneself that are not easily controlled.

Reverie is key to creativity. Bachelard’s sense of reverie as the true source or window which the artist can peer into the world of his imagination and call forth an image that dwells there, has been recognized by Hirsch as well. Structured reverie allows the mind space to flow between one’s inner life and images that reside in the world that surround him. Reverie creates an active and free space open to all possibilities-one’s we have yet to imagine. Duende finds its potential through reverie. Duende in a sense is passion. Passion opens the door for the image to enter.

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