On a small beach between towering rocks around the corner from Cabo San Lucas in Baja, Mexico, I set up, shaded and alone except for an occasional beach walker and the skimming pelicans. A 20″ x 24″ proceeded, not bad, I thought, considering the wind and the blown sand. Leaving my easel (I call it my “office” in places like this), I joined our friends on their grander beach, discussed lunch, had a Coke, then returned to the office.
The painting was gone. It might have been whipped away by a gust, I thought, but a search higher up against the rocks proved nothing. As I was some distance from the water’s edge, it seemed unlikely to have floated up and away like a parasailer and was now somewhere over the Sea of Cortez. It had to have been stolen.
Funnily, though, the thieves overlooked the Toshiba laptop that had been under my folding stool. Were these perhaps high-end bandits, ones with some taste, like the nipper of the Mona Lisa, or were they just local riff-raff who might sign the work and make a quick peso in the local market?
I began to think my painting was the best thing I’d ever done, unrepeatable, irreplaceable. The more I thought about it, the more I boiled. Unlike the fish that got away, the art we make is part of us, part of our very body, and unless we willingly sell or give it, losing it like that is a supreme insult.
Then I began to think otherwise. Wasn’t this just like any other painting I had never properly painted? Wasn’t it just an exercise, its own reward, a faltering, inadequate plod toward improvement and nothing worth fussing about? I had thought to run an ad — “Painting lost — reward offered,” but I cancelled my thought. No, my painting had floated off into the great art diaspora where they all ultimately go. Or maybe it was now an angel in painting heaven where sins are forgiven, where human effort lives on in anonymous eternity, blessed with being neither seen nor juried.
I thought again. My little moment of ecstasy on a private beach was something I might secretly cherish as from the fruit of my youth, better than reality, passionate, brilliant. In fact, for one tiny moment I was a major performer in Western Culture, a regular Lothario of the brush. I’m sticking to that.
PS: “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.” (G. K. Chesterton)
Esoterica: When all is only exercise and experiment, where questions give more delight than answers, and results are the lesser of process, we are given a special kind of energy. It’s shifty sand, though. Joy can be stolen because an artist has to put enough technique under the belt to be simply confident. To see a painting that never was, as it is to hear a tree falling in a forest, witness is during, not after. What happens after is really someone else’s business. And one mustn’t be fooled, as I almost was, that it was some of my business where they all end up.
This letter was originally published as “Painting lost, reward offered” on January 29, 2008.
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“We live our short spans in the vortex of a miracle, and while we may not be the center of that vortex, it is magic to be anywhere in there.” (Robert Genn)
Reply To stephan chmilnitzky Cancel Reply
We all need beauty, especially at a time when it appears to many that the world is in chaos.
Painting is the way I view my life, and it helps me keep my mind straight and my eyes on the positive. I look for beauty wherever I go. For that reason, I know that my life will not be long enough to paint all the ideas that I have.
I am painting because the Lord put the passion and desire in my heart to glorify Him in this way.
I have dedicated my life since 1983 to creating a body of work that testifies of His Creation, majesty, power, beauty, life and love.
Light and how we see it on the earth is the subject of all of my paintings.
I paint the landscape because I believe that we can see the Creator in His Creation, if we just look for Him there.
Since all who are sighted may see our surroundings, I believe this is one of the most evident ways we may see Him.
If I were to give a name to my entire portfolio of paintings, I would call it “The Sight of Heaven Touching Earth.”This Scripture, Romans 1:19-20, is foundational to all of my work: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made, so they are without excuse.”
Beauty, order, and the possibility to love is all around us—all we have to do is want to see it.
Oh, the great Robert also hung on to his works? Well I must be normal as I do not like parting with originals, especially my hasty watercolors with soluble ink or ink over watercolor sketches, which are, as you say, unrepeatable…
I had one of my first paintings in highschool stolen out of the class; a horse painting. I guess it was stolen by another art student. My teacher was very upset and told me it was the very first painting she ever had stolen. I really was not that upset and in a way, I was happy that I had been able to paint something that someone wanted that badly.
Forward many years and I am again having my artwork stolen, horse logo designs. This time by people online to use for their business logo.
My 1st stolen painting was an India ink painting of the 3 ships of Columbus. The Ninía, the Pinta and the Santa Marie. My teacher said she wanted to enter it into some city contest but It never returned.
It should not be normal to accept the loss of a painting through theft. without some feeling. It is normal to mourn a loss of one’s work regardless of circumstances as energy and emotion are put into it whether it is considered good or bad. A loss of that effort is a loss of part of one self.
A theft of a miniature done by me from an art show even though over 10 years ago, still remains in my consciousness,
Somewhere out there it is still exists if not in the home a person without conscience.
Yes, the marks we make are. like our children. And to let them loose is like giving them away at their weddings.
Some years ago, I displayed a mixed media work entitled, “Pantaloonies”, at a local library. The artwork disappeared, and was presumed stolen, the first such incident at this locale. I was partly dismayed and partly flattered to have the work stolen.
A few weeks later the work was discovered, dismantled from its frame, and hidden behind a photocopier. A one-dollar coin (the “loonie” of the title) had been removed from the work. Otherwise, all was intact.
I was glad to recover the work, reattach another coin, and put it back into the frame, though somewhat rueful that the work itself had not been considered worth stealing, only the coin. I assume the purloiner really needed the dollar, and, if so, I do not begrudge it. I have gained a little anecdote in exchange.
I once had a work stolen. I was on a solo painting retreat in upstate New York. It was the first time I had done such a thing and I have to admit my intentions were not the best, more about escaping (middle-age, marriage, work) then it was about discovering hidden inspiration and reveling in the joy of painting. Paint I did, regularly and consistently but, returning home, everything I did looked pedantic and clumsy. All ended up in the dustbin or, if they were lucky, were painted over. Except for one painting. I was on a roll that day, standing by a river with a view back at a classic New England town. The light was great. A young teenage boy rode by on this bike and stopped, surprised. It seemed evident he had never seen anyone paint before. I basked in the awe he seemed to have of my talent, especially since most boys that age I assumed only had respect for sports stars. We talked a bit about painting. He asked how much would I sell the painting for. I named a price but thought, More than you can afford buddy.
A while later, I ran out of paper towels and went back to my car, parked farther down the road. When I returned my painting had disappeared! Being a calm day with no wind, and no one else walking by, the only logical reason was the boy had taken it.
First I was angry. That was my best work! I could have sold it! Become famous! Ended up on the cover of LIFE magazine! (This was a while back) But then I pictured the boy, hanging the painting in his bedroom and having it become some sort of talisman for him that led him to explore a very different path in life than his peers. Or maybe, after hearing my exorbitantly price, he tried to sell it? I’ll never know. But the truth is the story I can tell now will always be better than the painting actually was.
My stolen piece was of my lover who died about a year afterwards. It was a part of a pair, and my half remains. I think about it sometimes. I could have repainted the small piece easily, but what was the point? It wouldn’t have brought him back.
My studio is in an artists’ building and is open to the public even when I am not there. Over the years I have had a few pieces stolen from my studio. My work is not the kind of art that an ordinary thief would be able to sell, so I can only conclude that the thieves actually liked and wanted the art they took. Sure, I would rather people buy my art, but I can’t help but be happy that they liked my work enough to steal it.
Hi, Bruce Winsor, are you my former classmate from Studio Incamminati? Fancy seeing your name here.
Years ago I hung my paintings in a restaurant in White Rock where my husband also played music. When we left town I connected with the restaurant owner and left my email address and contact info on the back of each painting. Our trip took many turns and it was a while before we returned to check in at the restaurant. It was not there, closed for good. As we knew the owner quite well we called at his house to enquire about the paintings. Oh the restaurant had been sold to a guy along with the paintings, then it had gone bust and he had left town. No he had no contact information. But by chance one of the smaller paintings was here in the garage. Would I like it? Ofcourse …. On reflection we were not invited into his house.
We should be so lucky to have a work stolen….everything will find the place it belongs; hopefully it’s a wall and not a dust bin!
I’ve often wondered where my work will end up. For me it’s not so much about sales (I’m retired ) but about distribution. The pricing is lower than average– and I’ve been chastised for this by local painters– but not so much that buying one isn’t a bit painful for those who earn money with hourly wages (of which I was one). I think it should be felt, the effort to get an image on the wall– but not so much as to be disabling. It means the buyer has chosen the work and, if things go well, will value the work and its acquisition. No one has stolen a painting of mine yet, but give it time. The theft will not, in my opinion, achieve its full value.
Interesting letter,emphasizing, once again, that painting should be done for its own reward, not because the painting may one day end up in a gallery, or in the Sea of Cortez.
I have a pile of “my stack of failures “. Periodically I review them and clearly (to me at least) some are and some aren’t. I have a vision to put up a bulletin board of “free art”…sort of like little free book libraries. I can’t really do it in the snow and ice right now, but I hope I have the energy as Spring comes…I’ll include all! And see if the public concurs.
Let us know when you’ll do this. Might have some visitors ……
A co-worker took a recognizable, historic, and authentic indigenous-made artifact that was being used as a bit of decoration in a business setting where we both worked. She took it right off the wall and hung it up in her home. I don’t often think of this, but when I do I am just mystified. I have wondered what, if any, spiritual effects this act and the continuing remembrance of it has had on her life. It has cured me of vicarious wanting!
Gee, everyone seems so serious about this newsletter I find delightfully funny. Robert’s final personal conclusion is right, tho, what happens to our paintings after they leave us is really none of our business. I used to feel “hurt” in knowing my paintings ended up in someone’s closet and brought out at Christmas when I visited, or in their basement with dirt and turpentine spilled on them. Now I realize that was their loss, they could have sold them and made a bit of cash. Thanks for the smile, Sara!
After a chimney fire in my condo, the restoration company took the furniture and 4 original oil paintings of mine to be cleaned. When my furniture was returned, the paintings, I was told, had “disappeared”. While I often discounted my prices when I sold art to friends or family that were lower than they would bring in a gallery, I put full price on the”lost” art. I had done what more than one instructor had told students in art class – that was: “Always, always make sure to photograph your work as soon as it is finished.” I was so glad I had followed that advice and, I had photographed them after I had hung them on the walls when I moved in. Needless to say, I had no problem with receiving full payment from my insurance company.
Years ago in art school, we had rather rickety, wooden lockers to store our canvasses and other supplies in. Although my locker was padlocked, someone would come in at night, unscrew the hinges, leave the padlock untouched and steal my freshly made canvasses. It was always devastating to me even though they were blank! As a nearly penniless art student, to me they were precious. Another lesson learned, I guess.
bottom line: STEALING STINKS!!! when something is stolen from you, you feel like it’s a Part of you.
Sorry about your painting.
with love, marilyn
Not exactly the same, but the same concept. Some years back I used a customized personal photo from Peggy’s Cove NS on the home page of my web site. About three months later I discovered it posted on another site with no credit, and certainly without permission. As the image was “watermarked” with a digital code, ownership was easily established. They were given the option of voluntary removal or a formal complaint to their hosting service. That was the end of that! Had they asked to use the image and provide due credit, there would have been no issue. People just seem to get a kick out of taking things that belong to others.
In the early sixties…when I was in 3rd grade, I wrote a story about mermaids. Mom embellished it with beautiful illustrations. The teacher never returned it..saying she threw it out, thinking I didn’t want it… unlike all the spelling and arithmetic papers I carried home….