I Know I Don't Know What I'm Doing

Brian T. Kershisnik

In a sense more profound than I can say, I don’t know what I am doing.  When people learn that I am a painter and ask me what I paint, I have difficulty answering.  Usually inquirers are seeking only the short answer and must be embarrassed or annoyed at my stumbles and what probably looks like attempts to conceal something.  I used to say (only to myself) that I was stalling for the arrival of a clearer understanding, but gradually the reality of my authentic ignorancebecame clear to me.  I hope that my responses have since then become less ridiculous if not less illuminating, and I will here make another attempt.

My current conclusion as to what I paint is that I don’t know and I’m trying to be more at peace with that awkward reality.  I don’t mean by this that I think I’m a bad painter, I am in fact, one of my favorite painters. No one’s artwork moves me as often to tears or laughter, insight and revelation, ecstatic discovery, and joyful or fearful views of the truth as does my own. (No doubt this has something to do with the fact that I am generally pretty heavily involved in its production.)  I am not painting about something I have learned and wish to explain to others, but rather something I am trying to understand myself– the problems of being this particular human being in progress.  I don’t paint people to show you who they are, but as part of trying to discover who they are, and I believe I fall in love with every one of them.  The questions involved in a painting, if I know them at all, are very difficult to articulate. I’m following a hunch in search of a question by acting with the tools of my trade and in this process, often unexpectedly and even unintentionally something of another world– of the other world, something of God– leaks out.  Then whether my abilities are frail or splendid, they are either way woefully inadequate and that is exactly where I want to be.  Painting for me is anxious disciplined pursuit, trying to sense when and how much to get out of the way so that what is coming can come though it is not expected or even possible to remove myself completely.  They are my hands after all, with my quirks, they are my weaknesses and capacities. It is my sense of humor, tragedy, composition, color and material–each of which use elements of the unexpected to succeed.  The benevolence, indifference, or even malevolence of each idea must be discerned in a process which can take days, weeks, or years.  Through these processes my abilities can be and often are augmented, but are seldom generated.  I try to bring all I have, and am seeking to improve, to the table and, in the ensuing dance of faith and work, I must never, in factI can never, “get it down” or reduce it to an easily regurgitatable process without doing violence to this fragile unnamable “thing” that I do.

As I get older, and more experienced, my sense of what to pursue or discard gets better as does my appreciation for the sacred state of not knowing exactly what you’re doing, just knowing you should be doing it.  I hope this extends to every aspect of my life and every relationship in and out of the studio. Life is much bigger than I am, and so it would be surprising if I felt that I knew what I was doing. What is truly surprising is the sensation that comes to me that I should be doing what I am doing.  Hanging on to this sensation often takes more power than I possess, yet like an act of grace, it persists unbelievably.