Yesterday was a day for work and the minor miracle of the telephone headset. I hardly put down the brush and my mind is still spinning with declarative statements and grinding questions. “I am abandoning laundry,” said one, whose husband has apparently been notified. Others included: “I am never satisfied and can never say when I’m finished.” “I’m 21, can do what I want, and I don’t have a passion for anything.” “Is it too late to become something at 48?” “Do you think there is any point in a man of 86 taking courses in watercolor?” And also — “These days I’m too busy to stop and think that I might be doing something wrong. Talk later.”
A lot has been made of the influence of positive and negative parenting. Quotes from my own parents in a recent letter set off a few bits of negativity and tales of misfortune. When this sort of thing happens I like to think of all of us just rising out of some sort of primordial soup. No particular moms and dads, just the brotherhood and sisterhood, creative beings standing on their own shoulders — joy, opportunity, creativity, motivation, self-realization commonplace at every hand. An unlikely be-in? Fact is, we all have issues that both empower and hinder the realization of our dreams. Some are willing, even eager to self-examine, others not. In our game no one denies the simple gift of friendship.
Perhaps the young lady who can never be finished is the most highly realized. While frustrated, she is the happy one because she is on the path. She realizes it’s a path. She realizes it’s an infinitely variable, complex and seductive path. Perhaps there is no greater joy. Perhaps this is as good as it gets. To the 21, 48 and 86 year olds, we have to say, “Grab a process, see if it works, do it your way.” Perhaps there’s no other way.
PS: “When I die and go to heaven, I want to spend the first million years painting, so that I can get to the bottom of the subject.” (Winston Churchill)
Esoterica: Yann Martel is a Montreal writer who yesterday won the Booker Prize for Literature. He won it for a story (Life of Pi) about a boy lost at sea with a Bengal tiger. When Yann accepted the prize he said, “The story is about the idea that life is a story. And that you can choose your story. And that, given a choice, you might as well choose what you think is the better story.”
The following are selected correspondence related to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
Resources for self-doubters
by Barbara McMillan, Nanaimo, B.C., Canada
For the people who feel it might be too late to bloom — it’s never too late to do what you love! Your self-doubts are like dark clouds blocking out the sun. You may want to read Late Achievers: Famous People Who Succeeded Late in Life by Mary Ellen Snodgrass. To the 21 year old and those interested in pursuing their passion, you may want to read, Double Lives: Crafting Your Life of Work and Passion for Untold Success by David A Heenan and Warren G. Bennis. Also: Discovering Peace, Direction and Balance in your Life by Gloria Thomas Anderson, and/or Discover Your Passion: An Intuitive Search to Find Your Purpose in Life by Gail A. Cassidy. These books and others may give you more hope and strength. I’m in my 40’s. I struggle with all of the above, and at the same time, I hear my muses calling me every day. It’s a tug-a-war. One thing’s for sure — I know I’m determined to keep reaching for my dreams however fuzzy they appear at times. We all have something unique and important to offer to the world whether we realize it or not.
Fear of commitment
by Sarah Garland
My actual query was, “Is it too late to be successful at 48?” I have concluded it is my fear of the big ‘C’ commitment that really hampers my progress, in all things. Plagued by anxiety, every step drenched with trepidation, I see commitment as an ending instead of a beginning. I am a wild horse. How does a bucking bronco accept saddle and bit? My ballet teacher said, “Do one thing and do it well.” I believe your philosophy is somewhat the same. I am always bored by only one thing. I know we can achieve whatever we set our minds to do. It is just a matter of choosing, then committing and the cycle starts again.
by Linda Saccoccio, NY, USA
The topic here is keeping life open ended. Realizing we do have choices and that if we go deep enough into our beings, we find the only obstacles are thoughts that we have acquired, and may have become patterns that no longer serve our needs as we evolve and learn what sustains our heart. About the lack of support from parents, well it’s just another place where we have to make a decision to find our own way and if we are passionate we find friends who support us. I was on a retreat where the teachers used something called the sacred enneagram, which states there are nine types of personalities. When you begin to learn your modus operandi you can begin to liberate yourself from limitations. They made it very clear that we come into this world with this stuff and it has nothing to do with our parents’ behavior toward us. I found that liberating. I offer you this quote by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda: “Approach the present with your heart’s consent. Make it a blessed event.”
I think the heart, if we get to really know it, will not betray us.
Re-examining the choices
by Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, Texas USA
I think it is good to reexamine our positions to make sure if our choices are the right ones for us, as long as we do not spend the majority of our lives in this potentially counterproductive activity. In my own case, my family has been supportive of my art career, although there are always the concerns about whether or not I will be able to support myself (and not develop the need to ask them for loans). All consistently tell me they admire my drive to live my passion and they love my work, but I do hear questions such as, “Do you need to keep doing nudes, especially males? If you draped some or offered the option of draping, would it help sales?” and “What if you did sports figures? There’s lots of money and vanity in the more popular sports. You could rake in the dough.” At an earlier age, I might have been annoyed by such misunderstandings of who I am. But I enjoy the questions now, if for no other reason than it helps me to clarify what my path is and how I intend to shape it. Of course, it also helps because I know these comments are made with good intentions, which softens any ‘blows.’ And it is always nice to have choices!
Never give up
by Terry Honer, Victoria, BC, Canada
I always enjoy your letters, particularly those that provide hints and advice on painting, and I often smile at the questions posed to you and your always- positive advice to wannabe artists and those that seem to be in the doldrums. To those that are “abandoning laundry, who don’t have a passion for anything, who think it is too late to become something at 48, who wonder if there is any point in a man of 86 taking courses in watercolor?” I can only recommend that they think about the bumper sticker I saw the other day. It was on a bright yellow Camaro and read as follows: Never Give Up Never Give Up Never Give Up. It is hard to find diamonds in a world of fools gold.
Making art a priority
by Mindy Drolet
I had always put my work aside even though my heart ached to let it be foremost in my life. Six years ago I decided to pick it up again and go for it. Progress has been steady and it has been great just to work at it. A year ago my mother had a stroke. There has not been much time to focus on my painting. But, your letters have inspired me so, and slowly I am returning to my work. Thank you for reaching out with your words.
Classroom drama shakes students up
by Jim Pallas, Detroit, Michigan, USA
This December I anticipate retiring from my 38-year day-job teaching beginning drawing and design at a local community college near Detroit. It is a deeply satisfying source of steady income, especially once I realized that I was not working for the college but for my students. But presenting the same two basic courses year after year can get stale. To stay fresh, I constantly experiment. For the last several semesters, as I neared retirement, I could no longer resist the temptation to exploit the dramatic possibilities of the first day of class when the students know nothing of their instructor.
Certificate of authenticity
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, CA, USA
I am curious about what information/certificate you may provide to the purchasers of your artworks concerning authenticity and notices about copyright, reproductions, photographs, etc. I have seen (on quality artworks) a small certificate with the artist’s signature, date, title, brief information about how to physically protect a piece of art and the restrictions on copying, reproductions in any manner/media, etc.
(RG note) I don’t believe in putting things like that on the backs of originals. To me it seems pretentious. Dealer provenances, personal integrity and point-of-sale education are more important. However, on limited-edition prints, I provide the following:
Treasure trove of art
by Oren, Israel
Recently I rented an apartment with a friend and while planning on how to decorate the place he said his grandfather had a collection of paintings. We went to a warehouse and I was amazed, three rooms filled with stacks of oil paintings. Apparently that was only one of three warehouses; in total there are about 15,000 paintings. We’ve decided we will start to photograph these painting for an online gallery, catalogue and organize them and, most importantly, preserve them correctly. Please advise us on how to stack, store, clean and dust this treasure.
(RG note) The idea of building an online gallery for the exhibition of an artist’s life work is a brilliant one. With automobile traffic and congestion the way it is, the internet may become the venue of choice. Oren, when you have taken a look at the treasure trove, please send along a few photos of the work and the environment. I’m sure our readers would appreciate a look and might be able to advise you better.