Cursory Observations on the Foundations of my Work

Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog) (1818) by Caspar David Friedrich
Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich

One illuminating byproduct of self-examination has been uncovering the sources of my attraction to sadness. It is an emotion I have felt for as long as I can remember, and I have written in the past about its origins1. Briefly, in my formative years, I experienced the absence of a parental bond, constantly in the care (or rather neglect) of others who had neither the time nor inclination to connect with me emotionally. A highly sensitive2 child—what in the “humours”3 of Greco-Roman medicine could be described as a “melancholic” temperament—I took this to mean that I was unloveable, unwanted and wrong for needing attention; and so I slowly withdrew, emotionally and physically, consoling myself with solitude, reflection, knowledge and beauty—things to which I was naturally drawn that did not require the company of others.

It was with this sense of life4—that existence is tenuous connection, consoling isolation and undeserved joy—that I indulged my desire to create; and what I created, what I admired and took pleasure in, was a manifestation of my inner life. My taste in music illustrates this perfectly: I would enjoy cheerful music but felt that I was “wrong” for doing so, guiltily listening then setting it aside, convinced I am unworthy of happiness. Only sorrowful music felt “right”. When I discovered the ambient, drone and shoegaze genres, it was as if I could hear my sense of life played on instruments: the haze of my experience concretised in reverberations and obfuscated in textures. Unsurprisingly, I embraced those musical styles wholeheartedly. Something similar happened in other art forms: the more melancholy the work, the more appropriate to my sense of life it felt, and the greater its effect on the content and aesthetic of my tastes.

You see it in my choice of project titles—the visions they conjure of separation (Forgotten Fields, Lonely Swallow5); in my music—the sense of longing (for connection) and lamentation (for not attaining it)6; in my poetry—the simple rhymes (evocative of a romanticised childhood); in my aesthetic—the minimalist abstract visuals (reflecting a child seeking warmth in ideas to escape the coldness of his reality); in my theme—nature as a source of solitude, beauty and comfort (requiring only that I exist to receive it); in my subjects—the fleeting moments of the natural world (as insignificant as I felt in childhood: a bird singing in the distance, the wind spilling over the grass, clouds dissolving in the sky). Understanding the origins of these—how my upbringing and temperament conspired to produce them—is deeply affirming.

  1. “This November”
  2. “Sensory process sensitivity”, Wikipedia
  3. “Four temperaments”, Wikipedia
  4. “Sense of life” is a term coined by Ayn Rand. It describes our subconscious understanding of existence which in turn determines the nature of our character and how we respond to the world.
  5. My micro-label.
  6. The best example is The Zephyr and the Swallow.

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