I find myself inexplicably hungry sometimes after I arrive at the studio. I’ve unpacked and am puttering around or flipping through art books in order to find that push to get started on the actual work. It’s a bit like a high jumper on the Tartan getting ready and rocking back and forth ready to approach the pits. It’s entirely my choice when I make that run up attempt at failure or glory.
Back to the hunger. I’m not if it’s real hunger or a kind of procrastination hunger, which is also kind of like boredom hunger. The procrastination part is easily understood, do everything possible under the sun expect what needs to be done or in this case what I claim is so important to me and bitch about never getting enough time to do.
I was explaining to Mark last night — he’s both a champion procrastinator and deep into the beginning struggles of a grad studies essay — that getting into the work is for me like an athlete getting ready to perform. You need to have your goals and then you need to warm up mentally and physically in order to perform. Painting is a surprisingly physical act. After having been a serious, elite athlete for many years I was struck by the physicality of making paintings especially large paintings. I’ve had to make sure I’ve got the right shoes for standing on the studio floor and consider the ergonomics of my tools and position. I once gave myself tennis elbow (which is a rotator cuff overuse injury) from preparing an number of largish sized canvases (4’x4′ up to 5’x7′) for a show. All logical, but the logical often doesn’t appear obvious until retrospection.
However, back to the hunger. I wonder if it’s a blood sugar thing and has to do with the extra energy needed for my brain to process thought. You can burn calories by thinking right? I’m eating low carb right now for fitness and vanity (trying to fit properly back into my very expensive and nice Max Mara dress pants). I’ve made it to day 5 on this so-called “cave man diet” and although my blood sugar should be stabilizing as I become a fat burner again instead of a lazy sugar burner I might be somewhere in the throes of a mild keto flu.
I’ve never experienced pre-workout or pre-hike or pre-run hunger like this. And studio hunger feels like a mildly vicious small beast inside of me that would push a near acquaintance overboard to get to some cake crumbs. Come to think of it, I have felt this way once before. Day 5 of the West Coast Trail and down to my last chocolate chip trail mix bar with 2 more days of remote trekking to go until a corner store. Embarrassingly upon reflection but completely justifiable in the moment, I really didn’t want to share this last treasure with my cohort of hikers. I waited until I was on my own in a bending stretch of duckboard pathway in a primordial West Coast rain forest before I devoured the concealed treasure. I was almost made. The leader of our crew came striding around a bend behind me as I stuffed the wrapper into a pants pocket and wiped the crumbs from my face. I felt like a horrible, unkind person.
So studio hunger is a familiarish beast but I remain unsure as to how I should respond. Is it just a trick-of the-mind and a delay tactic and I’m not really hungry? Is it similarly a form of self-sabotage and taps into any potentially analyzable reason for wanting to avoid and therefore flounder at the thing I claim to want the most (aka a nurturing, thriving studio practice and career as an artist)? Both give me another reason to wrestle with discipline and self-admonishment. To avoid a litany of negative self-talk I turned to research and discovered amazingly that science might actually be on my side. “Science of Snacking: Thinking makes you hungry“, published in Scientific American magazine skates over the research on caloric overcompensation after thinking work. Apparently, thinking causes big fluctuations in glucose and insulin levels. Because glucose fuels the neurons, a transitory low level in the brain might be the reason we feel hungry even though next to no additional calories have been consumed.
I’m deeply curious about the phenomenon and quite certain that some culture (Swedish or perhaps Japanese) may have already developed a word for it that succinctly defines mixed emotions and mixed outcomes of the experience. If you’ve heard of such a label please let me know.
And so, moving on, on the one hand the good news is that I’ve discovered that I am actually thinking and that feeling of hunger is actually a real feeling based on brain chemistry. On the other hand I still feel driven to consume pounds of sweet marie coffee biscuits. Instead I’ll write a bit more.
If preparing to paint (make art) creates feelings that feel like hunger, there may be something to laterally explore in regards to the relationship between the studio, and painting, to hunger and eating. Hunger often prepositions eating. Something it does not. Eating in the studio can be fraught with minor risks: toxic chemicals, perpetually dirty hands, smeared surfaces, and fuzzy things growing in the studio fridge. Working while eating can also lead to mindless overeating. Consuming while creating can feel like stoking a increasingly aggressive coal engine and might actually make up for a climactic sense of accomplishment regardless of the actual accomplishment on the easel. A list of word and ideas and questions: what is a studio kitchen? Is creativity akin to cooking or consuming? Is eating a mode of creation? Is painting/making a mode of nourishment? What is an art diet? What is the nature of procrastination through consumption? Is blood sugar a medium or a material?
Research points to the perception of hunger as evidence that I am here in the studio and actually thinking with my brain. This fact seems to walk directly into my next dilemma which is how much does thinking actually help or hurt artmaking. A topic for another post and another time.