Last Sunday, Dr. Jack Dalhousie dropped by my studio. He’s a guy who collects art from coast to coast and stashes it in his pad in Toronto. “Over two hundred now,” he said. “Dealers love me. I’m a shopaholic.” Jack’s a specialized shopaholic; he wears beat-up clothes and drives a second-hand Mercedes. I told him I’m a workaholic.
“Good on ya,” he said. “Nothing wrong with that. Without compulsive painters there’d be no compulsive collectors.”
Dr. Jack is a professor in a Faculty of Medicine. We talked briefly about “Memantine” — an Alzheimer’s and OCD drug now found useful in controlling compulsive shopping. “I never touch drugs,” said Dr. Jack.
We talked about compulsions and how they might be useful to people who invent and create. With Scotch-aid we came to a few conclusions: People who love their work tend to work compulsively. People who don’t love their work consider compulsive workers to be confused at best and, at worse, ill. People who love their work feel a bit sorry for those who don’t. Compulsions can’t be bought or sold. Compulsions are useful to society.
I asked the doctor if he thought people might be taught to be compulsive. “It’s contagious,” he said. “When you’re around others who have it you tend to get it. But you have to feel it’s your own possession, your own thing. It’s possible, I guess, to fall crazy in love with any darned thing. But you’ve got to make the first move.
“I can’t control my compulsiveness and I sometimes feel a bit of buyer’s remorse,” he went on, “but it goes away because I love the stuff I collect. I love art, but I also get off on my accumulation of what I think is the best stuff. What about you workaholics? Do you feel worker’s remorse?”
I told him most of us feel remorse when our work is not as good as it could be. I told him the desire to do better contributes to our compulsiveness. I told him many, if not most, creative folks have experienced some sort of compulsion and surrendered to it.
“No drug, he said, “except occasional satisfaction, can arrest desire.”
PS: “Most artists work all the time. Especially the good ones. I mean, what else is there to do?” (David Hockney)
Esoterica: We are drawn to our labour of love because it fills our cups like no other nourishment. The making of art is a private puzzle and working out the puzzle is beguiling. Let the folks who don’t love their work look forward to their retirement from it. We creative folks (and some others) have a different mind-set. “Work cures everything,” said Henri Matisse. “I need to work to feel well,” said Edouard Manet. “Work is more fun than fun,” said Noel Coward. “Work is the ultimate seduction,” said Pablo Picasso. “I work day and night without sleep,” said Jules Olitski, “The paintings keep me fired up.”
Your Self as most blessed tool
by Carolina De Medina, North Caldwell, New Jersey, USA
I am a serious, ecstatic Painter (carolinademedina.com) and I am a serious extremely and intensely involved psychologist/psychotherapist. But — I know that I have to preserve my body and my mind by having healthy boundaries. Otherwise I don’t do first-class work with either, and then I get depressed. The effort involved with either and both sometimes feels Herculean, but the payoff is Divine. Consider your Self as your most blessed Tool, my friends, and keep You in Good condition. (Dr Carolina — obviously an Apollonian.)
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Balance through relationships
by Michael Fantuz, Gander, NL, Canada
What a well-timed letter! Just as I am sitting here, pondering the last 7 hours of painting, I have been contemplating the delicate balance between a creative and destructive work ethic, whether all compulsions to paint should be entertained. My mind is constantly occupied with painting. Philip Guston is quoted as saying, “Painting seems like some kind of peculiar miracle that I need to have again and again.” How true, a need!
I am blessed with a wonderfully understanding wife and 2 incredible daughters. They seem to recognize my “need” for painting, that primal yearning for being at the canvas. But without them, I fear I might lose that compulsion to be an obsession and dive so deeply into the art that I lose the intent. I believe it is critical in painting to step back from it periodically in order to see it. We artists are mediums in ourselves, absorbing the subtle messages of our world, interpreting and expressing them for everyone else to see and feel as well. It can be dangerous business tuning in to these ‘messages,’ as it can be nearly impossible to turn them off. I am afflicted with a compulsion to paint because I have learned to see and feel what is around me. Without my wife and my daughters to remind me of the importance to strive for balance in my work, I would become lost to it. Thank goodness for them! Compulsion is a wonderful thing when tuned with a healthy awareness of balance.
by Aleta Karstad, Bishops Mills, ON, Canada
My husband, Fred Schueler, who is also self-employed (he’s a non-salaried biologist and we do a lot of field work together — me painting and he exploring), said as I read him your letter, “The trick with work is to find some way to be paid for it so that half of your work doesn’t consist of fending off bill collectors,” and “Our conceptual discovery is that the work that most needs to be done is the kind that’s not conventionally remunerated.”
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Partners in collaboration
by Fleta Monaghan, Asheville, NC, USA
The artist and collector are collaborators. The artist’s job is to filter and record the moment in time that is now, to channel the creative spirit and to deliver it in tangible form. The collector is the caretaker of this activity, ensuring that work goes on. The history of our times is recorded in visual form and is the preserver of the work. Each needs the other to continue the tradition of creating art that began with the first humans. The human race needs this team so that our steps on earth are remembered and understood.
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From large to small
by Alex Nodopaka, Lake Forest, CA, USA
I’m addicted to art. My obsession is with art that I can afford, thank god. It is bought in thrift stores, auctions & estate sales or worse, bartered with my artist friends.
I progressed from large pieces to smaller pieces paralleling the shrinkage of my real estate walls due to banking shenanigans, which had a silver lining, forcing me to focus on art the size of a business card. Its smallness is compensated by my shrinking stature due to age, which in turn makes the art big as my cerebral perspective allows it.
Digressing, I remember when art used to be big and overstuffed with things to be deciphered. But with time progression, the bigger the art the smaller its meaningful content became, proving Einstein’s concepts of the interconnections of time and real estate space.
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The power of passion
by Margot Comstock, Santa Rosa, CA, USA
Well, I generally have called them passions, and I wish every kid a strong one, because I believe having a passion is the best thing in life.
Some of us fight it — not usually because we don’t want it, but because of other stupid obligations or needs or “thinking of others” or whatever. I encourage everyone with even the inkling of a passion to put it ahead of absolutely everything. I believe that following your passion and creating what you are meant to create is the greatest gift you can give to the world and to mankind. But you don’t have to think it that way. Just do your wonderful thing and you’ll be achieving all the “good” the do-gooders want of you, and more than most. And, of course, stay kind.
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by De Gillett, Australia
This compulsion is what sets us apart from those who are not artists! It would be mean-spirited indeed to be possessed of a world-enriching gift, yet leave it languishing without ever getting to be the best we can be. This is why, at age 50, I have now almost completed my Bachelor of Fine Art at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Australia. The camaraderie of like-minded people who condone my obsession makes my life complete (well, that and all the easel time :)). The attached self-portrait amply celebrates my joy!
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by Roger Barnard
I just came across the post by Henryk Ptasiewicz while Googling paintings by Graham Sutherland and felt I had to comment on a number of points, even though the thread was started in 2003.
Mr. Ptasiewicz writes, “For years we had seen, and were familiar with, the photograph of Churchill by Karsh, which captured his personality totally. So there was a great expectation that a painting would be even better.”
Was there expectation that a painting would be even better? How do you know? Is a painting automatically better than a photograph?
“However the final portrait just couldn’t compete with the public image we all had. Sutherland had painted a grumpy old man…”
Well, probably he was a grumpy old man. But the painting (alas, only in reproduction) shows a grumpy old man with tremendous character and charisma. Are you saying that the painting should have depicted ‘the public image we all had,’ even if Sutherland felt that wasn’t the truth? It’s very likely Churchill didn’t get on with Sutherland, as he made no secret of his antipathy toward ‘Modern Art’ (i.e. anything after the Impressionists).
“…and despite lots of pressure otherwise, it was so despised by Lady Churchill, that upon Winston’s death, she destroyed it.”
Yes, that was unforgiveable. A selfish, philistine act.
“There was a tremendous public relief; the masses hated it.”
Was there really? Who showed that relief (apart from Mr. and Mrs. Churchill)? And who exactly are the masses? The taste of the masses, even if they exist, is not the best guide to quality in art.
“We were told that this was great art, and it wasn’t.”
Told by whom? Very few artists deserve to be called ‘great.’ Sutherland probably isn’t a great artist, but he’s a very, very good one whose reputation is rising once more after a period of neglect. The Churchill portrait was probably his best commissioned portrait (although it was said that he couldn’t get the feet right and decided to paint them out) and, in my humble opinion, it was a criminal act to destroy it.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Lessons from a shopaholic…
Featured Workshop: Donald Jurney
Screamin’ Geese, Napa, CA
oil painting 24 x 18 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Nancy Oppenheimer of Seneca, SC, USA, who wrote, “I need to paint and draw and study and dream and eat and sleep art. And I feel blessed, because I have a huge passion that fills me up. I’m always overflowing. The joys, loves, and challenges are boundless.”
And also Michele Rushworth of Seattle, WA, USA, who wrote, “People who don’t paint don’t understand why I like to spend so much time doing it. I completely agree with this quote: ‘Work is more fun than fun.’ ” — Noel Coward