|"Roses for a snow day" 10"x10" oil on wood|
Over time I've come to realize that I am only happy and fully 'mindful' when I paint. At least to a degree that other activities won't reach. I get lots of painting ideas while at work; I am constantly framing street scenes or fruit bowls in the kitchen into possible pictures. I don't try to figure out the "why" or the "for what purpose" any more. As long as no amount of hours spent painting or in art-related activities feel like work, I just know it is my 'calling'.
And yet I become quite agitated when people in the street tell me I should feel "blessed" or that I should be lucky with such a "gift". You know where I am going with this. I thank them. These comments are well meaning. It is a "gift" of some sort. Some may dismiss calling it a 'gift' because they "worked hard at it" but saying that sounds a bit desperate for recognition of their toils. There is nothing wrong with admitting you were driven by something else beyond a duty to perform.
|Life drawing, chalk on grey paper|
|"Nelson Square" 8"x10" oil on canvas|
This "gift" idea leads directly to a giver. It's hard to explain art in merely anthropological or evolutionary terms. (That doesn't mean there is no biological root to art, I am sure there is). But why would one persist in a behavior so void of profit and so full of grief, the grief of not being able to make it a career for whatever cause or "reason". So against the ropes and seeing time pass by, I'll go ahead and admit it, I have been giving God a lot of thought lately. Why grant a gift that can't be opened? Why call it a gift any longer? Why do it at all if there is a diminishing chance of making the work match the calling? And isn't this just putting the blame elsewhere because is too painful to blame oneself?
Mostly because I am an atheist and everything tells me there isn't such a thing, these thoughts seem idiotic. But there it is. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic touchy grouch who lashes out at anyone who recoils from his buy-now, pay-later immortality plan is not even in the picture here. Or any other version female or male or animal of capricious forces beyond our understanding. I am talking about the inner impulse that drives artists. Whether it is Gods or genes or guts, I don't care.
There's a story from the Bible that seems appropriate:
It's the "Jonah and the Whale" story or at least my take on it. I liked this book from the Bible when I was young because of the visual appeal of the prophet living inside a whale (whales have tiny throats and can't swallow a man by the way. Another coin in the Bible's jar of lost logic).
In the Bible, Jonah manages to convert Nineveh but gets no reward except scorn. See, he sets out to be a "prophet of doom" like the good lice-infested bearded ones of yore, and it so happens that the gullible people (this time, what are the chances?) decide to change their wicked and fun ways and dress in ashes and dung. Oh, goodie. His whole life is a forced service to his gift and it brings him, personally, no reward. He is the Bible's tragic clown. Job at least got back his camels when God decided to wager on the strength of his faith with good ol' Satan.
Sure, there's a lot of worse fates than being a clown but what's the lesson here? That you should go along with your calling even if you know it is not going to be easy or even successful. At least you'll be a LOT less tired from fighting against it.
In other words, f*** it. Just paint, sculpt, dance or make balloon animals. It's what you are meant to do. Just do it any which way you want, with a job, without a job, with cancer, in the kitchen, with chalk or ink or piss.
|St James Church, Crossroads, Haworth|
Pendle Stained Glass Ltd. 1999
Many artists are firm God believers and I have seen first hand the results of having an unwavering faith of some sort. I've met mostly Christians of several ilks, catholics, mormons, etc... that set out to make a living in art at a young age and succeed with kids and wife in tow. I've also seen other artists inspired by other faiths including the much taunted "faith in oneself" (talk about tautologies, you are the one believing in it). The key word here is they do have "faith", a belief that cannot be faked when you are really gambling your career success on it. One has to respect this and I do envy it to a great degree.
Art and faith almost require the same strength of conviction against a void.
To mention just a few artists informed by their faith : Daniel Keys, John Burton, Tony Pro, ,Jeremy Duncan, Josh Clare and many many others.
If you know many artists, you know "gift packages" are also indeed very rare. They do exist. Artists that were born in artist families do better. Artists that found or worked with generous mentors do better, succeed earlier, spare themselves a lot of mistakes. Exposure to the business of art making seems like a better route than any schooling. I am just guessing here and interpolating from many random observations. I am always surprised at the amount of artists that are sons and daughters of artists. Sure, a great number of artists succeed despite having none of the above and even less advantages than others. Talent can break many barriers.