No Can Do

I was thinking about the Lucien Freud exhibit I saw several years ago. I almost skipped it in favor of the permanent exhibit but veered in at the last minute. Something about his determination, his commitment to depicting flesh as a pocked and lurid manifestation of emotion, the torturedness of his portraits and self-portraits, his funny side trips into his garden with its riot of lines, I found touching and inspiring. How can I push words to move beyond themselves without falling into incomprehensibility? What brutal honesty can be done with words beautifully? How can I use words such that I am moved beyond words into the wordless, into the visceral? This makes me think of how words themselves have a kind of visceral dimension — there are squishy words, hard words, rapid ones and slow, heavy and light. They exist in and of themselves, but then take on another dimension when set next to other words. It’s magic, really, and mysterious, like light and shadow, and seemingly impossible to control. Lucien Freud is quoted as saying about what he was up to with his art, “With me, it’s what Yeats called the fascination with what’s difficult. I’m only trying to do what I can’t do.”

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