A friend of mine (let’s call him Dino) entered retirement the other day and took up painting. You could say Dino has a life-long appreciation of art, but until now he has only thought about actually doing it. He went to a lumberyard and bought some wood for stretchers. He quietly helped himself to a bed-sheet from the family closet. He was thinking big. His work is huge. He primed with blue latex, then hit it with commercial acrylic, roller and brush.
While he’s one of my best friends, he’s a non-subscriber. “I just want to have fun,” he says. “I don’t want to get anyone else’s information.” In my eye he’s on the way to becoming another Douannier Rousseau, if you know what I mean. Except that he’s fast. “I love this,” he says, “Haven’t been this turned on for years.” He’s now on his fourth painting. His kids have them in their rumpus rooms. They had to take down a lot of other art in order to find the space.
What’s to be learned from this? Is there a law against having fun? If it feels good, should you do it? Does it matter?
“Dino,” I asked, “What are you thinking?” He told me he’s no longer so enamoured with abstract art because “making a mess is the easy part.” He told me the big payoff so far is an increased awareness of the world around him — the design of leaves, the cut of mountains, the color and patterns in water. “Wow, look at that,” he says of the new-found sunset. His vocabulary is definitely peppered with superlatives: “Fantastic, outrageous, riotous,” etc. He’s a walking spark-plug of creative enthusiasm. There’s not a jaded bone in his body. Quoting as usual, I said, “Dino, your strength is as the strength of ten, because your heart is pure.”
“That’s true,” he said.
PS: “Enlightenment takes place when one lets his innocence emerge and sees nature and life with a childlike awe and respect. The ‘why’ of a child is repeated over and over, causing more questions and the never-ending process of discovery.” (Charles DuBack)
Esoterica: For the “pros” it’s part of the job description to hold onto what Dino’s got. We cannot allow that everything pales, everything perishes, everything passes. Every day we must search in our heart for our child. In life and art it’s better to be an enthusiastic amateur than a jaded professional. “Every creative act involves a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.” (Arthur Koestler)
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
It made me smile
Bev Willis, Fresno, California, USA
The article about your friend finally getting to paint and just enjoy it made me smile. I could feel the excitement and happiness of this man. I agree wholeheartedly, paint and enjoy it: after all, life is meant to be enjoyed. Why make work out of everything. And who knows, with the attitude he has, he may come up with some better art than we have seen for a long time. From the way you are writing about him, I could almost picture him wrapping himself into the canvas that he has finished somewhat like a little kid with their “blankey.” The other wonderful thing about his attitude, you can bet he will learn a lot from these experiences.
Dipped into therapy
I just love what Dino is up to. It tickled my fancy when I read the details of his beautiful beginnings. I hope he never changes. Guys like him don’t really want anyone telling them how to do it — the child in him is being born into expression — “Just let me do it.” And as for him going big — it is appropriate for him because he has a big creative heart which has been crying out to express and has been dormant for too long. I wonder if he knows that he has dipped into the most healthful therapy possible?
Story of growth
Like Dino, I too took up painting when I retired last year. Having not had any art instruction since the eighth grade and having never had the nerve to pick up a brush and even attempt to put paint to canvas, I had wanted to try it for a long time but couldn’t summon the courage. But once done, that inaugural time, each experience was new territory. Fresh. Miguel De Cervantes said, “Nothing is so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own.” At fifty, I guess mine should read, Nothing is…….. as an “old” man. But then, that’s the thing. As you’ve said in your newsletters, “We look at things with fresh eyes.” Nurturing our sense of seeing makes us recognize that we don’t know what we don’t know. What we know about anything is finite. Outside that sphere of knowledge is an endless horizon of things we don’t know. How we know what we don’t is to learn by doing. It is psychologically safer in the finite world. We, therefore, tend not to venture into the unknown unless we are challenged. For that reason, each painting I have attempted has been significantly different from anything I’d done up to that point. I am challenging myself to do subjects that seem, at first, to be impossible for a novice. Brush to paint and paint to canvas allows mistakes to occur when attempting to replicate an image. But in those mistakes is some degree of rightness which would never have come to light had I not forged ahead and squeezed the tube. And through that slight amount of right, often, I’m able to identify what is wrong, conjure up a repair strategy, and implement a fix. Each canvas or board I’ve done, has a story of growth, error, excitement, fear and a magical moment when I said, I’m done. Then I have to resist the temptation of “fixing it ’til it’s broke.”
While thumbing through a Wolf Kahn book of his work I found a quotation on the subject of a “fresh eye.” “The painter [any artist whatever]should not become conscious of his insights — without taking the way round through his mental processes, his advances, enigmatic even to himself, must enter so swiftly into the work that he is unable to recognize them at the moment of transition. For him, alas, who watches for them, observes, delays them, for they change like the fine gold in the fairy tale which can no longer remain gold because some detail went wrong.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)
You have to control, focus and temper the strength. Uncontrolled strength is usually an explosion. Sometimes on the other hand let it explode and pick up the pieces and then impose control, or just enjoy the light show. But I’ll note that fireworks and firework shows are very controlled explosions.
Corporate art sales
Do you have suggestions on submitting a portfolio to those individuals that purchase corporate art? Would you contact the company directly? Would it be the branch office or corporate headquarters? Are there art consultants that specialize in placing art in corporate offices? I would greatly appreciate any insight you can provide on this subject.
(RG note) I find that most of that sort of thing for me comes out of personal friendships. For example my stockbroker asked if I would lease his firm an office-full of paintings. His is not the main office. Other connections have come from agents. Actually, independent agents (consultants) as well as galleries are valuable. Consultants are often hard-working women who are used to going the extra mile to place your work and if they can’t sell them they often lease them. A typical deal that companies like is a lease-to-purchase which gives them tax deductibility and the eventual right to ownership — plus it gives them some time to live with the work and see if they like it. Cold calling on your own is no fun and somewhat degrading. It puts them in the driver’s seat. The idea is to maneuver the situation so that they ask you.
It would be good to know more details of how many stretchers to take, if you take extra canvas that has been on stretchers, so as to “return” it to its stretcher, do you take a stapler or staple gun — nitty, gritty details for those of us who yet just dream of travelling to workshops! Also — do you tend to limit the tubes of acrylic you take? Buying elsewhere might be fun but most of us trust familiar “friends.” Do you worry about compatibility of paint brands? Do you worry about the $ exchange rate — or just assume the paints etc are also priced for locals? If you usually start with some kind of underpainting, do you do this ahead of time?
(RG note) All painters have different ideas on these questions. I like to work in two or three standard sizes so the stretchers I take are limited to 8 or 12 sticks. Yes, take or borrow a staple gun there and use shallow staples so the canvas is lightly and cursorily stapled and will pull off in a trice. I work in acrylics so sometimes this takes place in minutes and a new one goes on. It’s a personal thing. Some canvas-painters don’t mind working on canvas taped down on a board. It’s a hang-up I have — I like the springy feel that stretching gives. Tubes: take the main ones and buy the fun ones. Compatibility: I used to worry but now I don’t so much. All acrylic medium molecules are similar but not the same. (This is due to the various patents which colormen hold) Having moved around a lot I don’t notice much difference when I mix them up. No long-term problems after 30 years either. Until a paint chemist gives me a really good reason for sticking to one, I’ll probably continue to mix them up once in a while. Exchange rates: I don’t worry about this because my brain won’t get around it. Priming: When my canvas leaves the studio for a painting trip it’s pre-primed in the tones I like in order to save one more step. I really like to just open my box and start painting.
Climb out of the muck
Valerie Ganzert, Fruitvale, BC, Canada
The last number of your letters have summed up so much about my perspective on the creative things I do (which are many and varied). Especially about how the piece has a life of its own, almost, and the trust we need to have in order to bring it to completion. Sometimes the “sheer plod” does it, but far more animated are those pieces whose spirit moves me rather than the other way around. I appreciate the philosophical bent of the newsletters, particularly at a time when my profession along with many others is under a lot of stress (I am a special ed. teacher). “As a Man Thinketh” was just what I needed to climb out of the muck and remember to aim higher than the fallout around us.
The following are a few more of the 270 or so entries that have come in since the contest was announced three weeks ago. They are not necessarily finalists in the “Free Painting Workshop in Brittany with Robert Genn” contest.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 97 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002. That includes Lorne Maddox of Stratfordshire, UK., who submitted the following:
“Seeing depends on knowledge
And knowledge, of course, on your college
But when you are erudite and wise
What matters is to use your eyes.”
And Paul Langman of Saitama, Japan who sent in the following:
Each Day In Life is Training
Training For Myself
Though Failure is Possible
Living Each Moment
Equal to Anything
Ready for Everything
I am Alive – I am This Moment
My Future Is Here and Now
For if I cannot Endure Today
When and Where Will I?
(Words for Each Day, by Soen Ozeki, Daisen-in Zen Temple, Kyoto, Japan)