I’m wandering in a magic farm called “Serendipity,” a place of fragrant gardens, hencoops, sheepfolds, shady arbors, scarecrows and a hee-hawing donkey. There’s fifty painters scattered in nooks and crannies, and I’m looking over shoulders. As I see it, everybody’s trying to make something a bit unique. This is not a body of workmen following a blueprint and constructing a unified monument. Everybody’s doing his or her own thing. Everybody here is a specialist.
That’s what makes us an interesting bunch. There’s community, yes, but there’s also a field of solitudes. I hesitate to make a comment or a suggestion. I know the joy of working a problem through on my own terms. The satisfaction I’ve had making minor discoveries of style and manner. The pride and excitement of self-guidance and the bravura of cooking without a recipe. For this life there’s no true handbook. I’m thinking of the wise bag-lady in “The Dreamway,” who said, “In the wide dreamscape, very few are truly extraordinary, but at close range you are one of the few.” One by one I see everyone at close range. One by one I’m even more convinced. Extraordinary. Everybody here is a specialist.
Who’s to say what’s good and what’s bad? That’s a fashion-driven reaction to the norms of what’s currently to be expected on half-sheets, sketchbooks, or stretched canvasses. Whether a pro or first-time-out it’s more to do with the brush on the support, the art-mind interaction, private struggle, private joy. At the end of the day, the artists fold away their paraphernalia and glance sideways at their efforts spread casually on the grass. Some want to cover up, even destroy — others hang out in modest expose. The permutations and combinations of color and brush, paper and marker, location and personality have created an infinite variety. Every one’s done differently. Everybody here is a specialist.
PS: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” (Martha Graham)
Esoterica: Sometimes I think we suffer from the tyranny of comparison. Contests, competitions, thrive on it. Who cares? “Since you are like no other being ever created, you are incomparable.” (Brenda Ueland)
This letter was originally published as “You’re special” on June 26, 2001.