I may be totally wrong on this one. I’m thinking that artists are among those who don’t really want to receive too many gifts for the Holiday Season. It may have something to do with the overabundance of joy in our daily lives — or the consequent guilt that arises, but we artists, by and large, are not into materialism. At this time of year there is little that we might covet. Actually, this year the only thing that I want is one of those radio-controlled tarantulas. And that’s hardly a gift — it’s entertainment for others — controlled by me of course — perhaps to set off drama among the nieces. They are nice nieces. “Funny Uncle Bob,” I’ll hear them scream when my radio-controlled tarantula haltingly emerges from under the Christmas tree. “They come in with shipments of Bolivian trees,” I’ll tell them. The little darlings.
But I digress. The only thing that I can ever remember really craving was the know-how to do a decent painting. I’d seen what the really great painters could do. For my stocking I wanted a zapper — perhaps a pill or an easily gulped liquid. Picasso chutzpah, Sargent talent, Monet joy. Put this stuff in bottles and you could name your price. Pop one just before stepping into the studio, and “Schazzam,” I’d be the wizard I always knew I was. Actually, I think these twice-weekly letters are like little silent pills — some that work for one and not another — or that work one time and not the next. “What a bunch of pap,” wrote one subscriber after my recent letter about creativity and love. She unsubscribed from the freebee. That’s the good thing about giving a gift. No one ever complains about the price.
But I digress. We don’t need stuff. We need ideas and energy and subjects and motivation and time and lots of other things that can’t be bought and are not sold at Wal-Mart. Happiness is not under the Christmas tree but somewhere in the air above it. It doesn’t stick to traditional dates or statutory holidays. It can sometimes be found on the most ordinary of Thursdays. Sometimes it just blows in like a swallow in December. Sometimes when you want it most you can’t have it. And sometimes you’re up to your elbows. That’s why we don’t need regular stuff. We’re into bigger stuff. And if we need tools or paint or clay or something we just go out and buy it anyway. Which reminds me, I’m outa here — last minute stuff.
PS: “Thanks to my work everything’s going well.” (Claude Monet)
Esoterica: It’s a sort of ecstasy. It’s like a drug. It’s that feeling you get when you’ve given everything in a work of art. And it connects, really connects, not with everyone, but with someone — maybe someone special. It’s the possibility of the existence of such a high that keeps us believing in things even more preposterous than a jolly bearded chap descending over 6000 chimneys per second. “And for a breath of ecstasy / Give all you have been, or could be.” (Sara Teasdale)
This letter was originally published as “Wanted for Christmas” on December 23, 2005.