Several years ago when I was offered two different jobs, both of which were good and both of which I was quite capable of doing, I found myself in a dilemma. One of the jobs paid very well. The other job paid a lower salary but was at a well-regarded art school and the fringe benefit was free (and quite expensive) art classes.
Going to art school was my dream, but I had debts and that larger salary called me, too. I conferred with a friend who offered this advice: “Take the job that pays more and you’ll be able to buy all the art you want.”
I took the other job. When I heard my friend’s words and felt my heart plunge, I understood that I was not a passive viewer. Or even a consumer. I was a maker.
Oh, sure I love looking at great art, and a person does a lot of that in art school – slides, exhibitions, trips to the city to visit museums. But in art school you do this with a different purpose and an entirely different appreciation because you are also a maker.
Trying to explain this to others is more than difficult. It was easier to explain my desire to write novels and plays, perhaps because so many out there want to be writers or because everybody knows how to write something or because best-selling writers get a lot of press, aka fame.
Best-selling artists are mostly dead.
I could write my novels and plays at my desk in the living room or at a coffee shop. I didn’t have to wear an old shirt when I was writing to avoid getting my good clothes stained. I could keep the pages of the novel or play, once printed, in a neat stack or a small box.
Painting is messy and takes up a lot of space.
I could, and did, do readings and other performances, sometimes for money, and others found these entertaining.
Holding up a painting is not that entertaining.
But still, still…Here’s what Bayles and Orland say about artmaking in their wonderful book, Art & Fear:
Look at your work and it tells you how it is when you hold back or when you embrace. When you are lazy, your art is lazy; when you hold back, it holds back; when you hesitate, it stands there staring, hands in its pockets. But when you commit, it comes on like blazes.
It’s been three years now since I walked back through the Art Door. I started with small collages on cut up cardboard boxes. The only painting I did was covering the cardboard with a base color. I moved from there to include some drawing, worked on bigger pieces of cardboard and called what I did “mixed media.” I moved then to small canvases and entered a couple of art shows with my mixed media work. More recently, I’ve painted more and pasted less. Worked on larger canvases. Entered a serious art competition. And now, the last couple of weeks, a light went on and I’ve moved to all painting. No collage.
When I walked into this particular room and felt the joy, I knew I was home. Color. All color, all the time. Abstract Expressionism. This is the art that resonated for me when I first began to see and appreciate serious art. I make no judgments here about what anyone else wants to do, and I’m not going to try to explain why this is the art I love best and want to make.
I have a lot to learn, believe me, but the joy has not diminished for a moment.
There are plenty of schools of art for everybody who wants to pick up a pencil or pen or brush. You may not find yours with your first efforts; in fact, you’ll likely have to play around, experiment, look and read, do some searching, but you’ll find the one that makes your heart hum.
When you do, I think you’ll understand why Bayles & Orland speak of the place you’ve found as “hearth and home.”
Now, I’ve gotta put on my old painting shirt and my red Chuck Taylor high tops and pour myself a cup of coffee and turn on some good jazz and start a new piece. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
I think the canvas is blazing!