And they were good paintings, very good paintings. Describing abstract feelings with words is hard enough; describing abstract paintings is all but impossible. And there were so many, and no two alike.
But here again the word "created" isn't right. Doesn't creation involve effort? Yet no effort was expended; the paintings simply appeared. It made me question the whole notion of creativity. Supposing I had a magical button the pressing of which would transform my mental paintings into physical works on canvas. Would that be cheating? Could I truly take credit for "creating" them, in that case? If the artist doesn't labor to produce his visions, does that make him less of a visionary? Would it render his visions any less valuable, or valid?
As someone who has worked with computer applications like Photoshop and Illustrator, I am fascinated by the whole concept of a "virtual image," one that exists not as paint or some other substance on a ground or in any tactile form, but only as a series of pixels whose colors, in turn, are determined by binary values. With a computer, the artist doesn't actually "paint" anything; he simply assigns those values to an array of pixels; there is no "painting," per se. And yet effort is expended; work is done. Hard work, as a matter of fact. And a product is achieved; an image that can be shared with others is produced.
My head paintings were different. They were shared with no one but me. In fact the only proof you have of their existence is my word. If I say they were beautiful, if I call them masterpieces, you have every right and reason to doubt me. And yet I swear it's true. But before you write me off (and accuse me of immodesty, to boot), let me repeat that I didn't make the paintings; they were made for me out of a mixture of memory, experience, and desire.
And sometimes with a little prodding from me. For as with my eyelid paintings, I taught myself to "conduct" them. And so, for a dozen or so nights, night after night, in collaboration with my unconscious, I "head painted" thousands of head paintings—an output surpassing even that of Picasso in its abundance and variety.
At first I welcomed this abundance; in fact I couldn't believe my luck and even felt blessed. But after four or five days I also felt exhausted, since along with whatever pleasures they offered, each of these thousands of head paintings came with an obligation to go to the easel and produce the real thing. For a while I kept a sketchpad on my night stand, and tried to reproduce, in rough outlines and color notes, the best of the best of these offerings, switching the light on every five or so minutes, with notes accumulating, displacing sleep. I was reminded of that episode of the Lucy show, the one where she's working on a cake assembly line that keeps going faster and faster. And anyway my task would have been impossible: the only way to do justice to paintings isn't with a pad and pencil, but with paint on canvas. After ten nights I felt like shouting, "Enough, already!"
At last, the images stopped coming. I made them stop. I forced myself to think of other things. If a "painting" popped into my mind I mentally batted it away. I needed my sleep.
They're better left in the mind.