A subscriber wrote, “I know by experience that art-making is a conduit to something higher than workaday life — but I’m finding it harder and harder to overcome depression about the low status of my day job and the low status of visual artists. It’s not just that painters are viewed with some contempt; increasingly, our work just isn’t viewed at all. Look at the entertainment section of any newspaper. It will have articles on just about every other art form but painting. It seems that painting is terminally ill or dead. At age 42, I have the typical dream of wanting to build a full-time career as a painter, but I’m increasingly pessimistic about that ever happening. The work may be meaningful, but it seems you need a monk’s or nun’s vow of poverty and hardship to engage in it.”
As is my habit, I put down my brush and wrote back: “There’s a possibility that you may be using too many of the wrong words: “Poverty, hardship, pessimistic, workaday, depression, low status, contempt, ill, dead.”
Then, within a minute, this letter came in from another subscriber: “Before Martin Seligman et al there was Victor Frankl, a German psychiatrist who spent most of WWII in an internment camp. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he wrote that everything was taken from him except his power to change the way he felt. In such terrible circumstances he realized that the simple act of changing his vocabulary — the words he used in thinking — was enough to change his attitude, his feelings and his sense of being an individual who loved and was loved. This, he concluded, was why he survived when stronger men didn’t. His book has affected thousands of lives, mine included. When I despair that my painting isn’t going anywhere — you know: ‘What ever made me think I was a painter?’ — I change my thinking-words: ‘What made me a painter?’ Let me count the ways.”
These two artists are practically neighbours. They should meet. They have now. What a medium. Let me count the ways, indeed.
PS: “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering the attitudes of his mind.” (William James)
Esoterica: I rather like the idea of “thought police.” Many of us maintain our own precincts. The constable on duty stands guard against the moles that undermine our temples. He arrests those who would steal our potential. He runs surveillance on what comes out of our mouths and gives warnings to the unruly felons of our heads. The wise among us pay attention to his ticketing.
Click here to go to Desirable words list.
This letter was originally published as “Your thinking words” on January 24, 2003.
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“Dwelling on the negative simply contributes to its power.” (Shirley MacLaine)