When I was a child and as a teenager, I was lauded by one and all as having amazing artistic talent. Unfortunately, my talent development got stuck somewhere in my teen years. It just never really deepened into something adult. Why that is can be left for now as too cerebral for this discussion. Let’s just chalk it up to everyone’s favorite excuse—bad childhood.
As a creative artist with paints and brush or pen and ink,I have always struggled to express in a meaningful way. Yeah, I hear you thinking, “meaningful is subjective.” I know; you’re right. I mean that my art doesn’t express what I, and probably every other art critic in the world, think of as meaningful. Have you ever thought about what make really great art as opposed to, say Motel Wall art or what I call “shopping mall art?”
With music and dance, there are definite rules. “Your arabesque extension was beyond perfection.” “Your timing and color with that song were amazing.” But media art such as oil, ink, and watercolor have looser definitions. Perspective, balance, color harmony, depth? Yes. Those can be important, but look at Picasso, look at any number of “great” art pieces and you will see those rules broken. It’s not that. It’s something subtle and undefinable.
Great music and great dance have that subjective something too. So does acting and film making, but, as I learned when studying classical ballet, the rules are more important. If your timing, pitch, or harmony is off; if your body doesn’t do what you tell it to, all is lost. As anyone watching America’s Got Talent, or American Idol, can attest, enthusiasm and confidence that “God wants you to be a star” is not enough.
Art, in today’s world includes all sorts of undefinable goodness and badness. Now, anything can be called “art.” I recently read a comment that a pile of bricks might be placed in a museum and called art, but it’s still just a pile of bricks. I felt the same way when touring a museum of modern art and encountering a fish tank with three basketballs floating in it. Art? Not in my book, but there are a lot of books in the world. Even if I were to think that mine is the only one that counts, it isn’t. At one time, Norman Rockwell wasn’t considered to be a real artist. Hah! In my book he has a whole chapter.
So, what I want to talk about now is not that kind of, in my never-to-be-humble opinion, pseudo-art that piles a bunch of diapers on a hot pink toilet seat and calls it art. I want to talk about my first love and my greatest frustration–painting. It’s the great mystery.
For me, words come easy. I have an ongoing voice in my head saying all sorts of weird and wonderful things. I used to say them out loud but learned that irony and absurdity are lost on many people. Just like the actor who wants to direct and the director who wants to act, until recently I had always wanted to be an artist, up to my eyeballs in canvas, oil paints, and brushes.
And, my chances were good, genetically speaking. My mother was an artist, once upon a time, and good too. My father studied art in the short time he was in college. I only saw one of his paintings. He showed it to me when I was a child. It was of wild horses.
Now HE was an artist. It had life, movement, energy. It drew me into the painting as if I was there. I could hear the pounding of the hooves on the hard-packed earth, smell the dust, and feel the hot wind stick to my sweating body. Looking at those magnificent animals, manes and tails flying as they ran, the ground shook under my feet. Tears came to my eyes. He was truly an artist, that is until alcohol took him away from it.
However, to be fair, it wasn’t just the alcohol. After all, there have been countless great artists who pickled their brains with alcohol or drugs, or both. No, my dad was a decent, hard-working man from depression era Oklahoma. He had been in the Navy in World War II, and held on to the standards he grew up with. Marriage and family meant putting yourself aside, working at a steady job and bringing home the bacon.
I wasted a lot of years hating my father and wallowing in self-pity because he wasn’t Mr. Cleaver or Ozzie Nelson. When I finally let go of that, it was as if I was reborn. Now, I can look back and appreciate much about him, including the artistic genes that I inherited .
Still, I believe that I have never been really good at fine art. I am great on the computer. I can manipulate pixels and create, as the discoverer of Tut’s Tomb expressed, wondrous things. It’s sort of like some people taking tests. I know the material, I know how to use the tools, but when brush hits hand, mind goes blank. I can copy really well. Maybe I should have become an art forgerer. Or is it forger? Who knows, who cares.
Anyway, I have one shining example in my life of a time when I did create something amazing, something others said was worthy of hanging in a gallery. Now I know the trick, but as I grow older I prefer pixels to paint fumes in my nose, dribbles smears, and swashes in the floor walls, in my hair, permanently on my fingers, face, and well, everywhere.
That’s how I cook, sew, and garden; that’s how I painted. I’ve always been in awe of people who can simultaneously be creative AND neat. That’s just wrong in my book. It’s, well, against nature. I manage to make a mess just writing an article. Maybe I’m way off about this, but in my mind, the best creativity requires wild abandon and to hell with the mess.
So, once upon a time, I was married to a wonderfully traditional man named John. He was my second husband. When I met him, I was dating his best friend who asked me to join him at the beach while he took his Scuba something or other to get his certification. I was, I think, 23 years old and a hottie, or so I was told. My “date” brought along a friend, John, to keep me company on the beach. “Okay,” I thought without much caring. I was wearing a yellow, crochet bikini. That’s all it took. Soon after that, we were married.
John’s parents were well off with a golf-course home in 29 Palms, a cabin in Big Bear Mountain, and other fun stuff. One scorching-hot summer, John and I spent a weekend at the 29 Palms house. I hated the heat. We went to some of the art galleries in Palm Springs. I looked at the abstract art in awe. There were wild splashes of color, lines that boldly cut through the canvas, symmetry, asymmetry, and aliveness. These paintings had messages from the heart exploding from the canvas. I was in love.
“I could do that,” I naively said to myself. Oh how blind are the emotionally repressed. When we returned to the house, I eagerly set up my canvas and paints on the patio. I stared at the whiteness of the rectangle in front of me. It stared back. I applied paint. Ugh. Scraped and started again. EEEEUUWWW! Fortunately, I was using oil paints and could just scrape the canvas clean and start over. I struggled and struggled but it only looked like a 5-year old’s scribble—well, maybe not even that good.
The sun was setting and I was in a mood so dark I could have single-handedly started a thunderstorm. I was tired and angry. I took paint directly from the tube squirted it all over the canvas, shouting at it with my best French obscenities. But, Merde, the French really know how to curse. I then attacked it with a putty knife, stabbed at it with brushes, scratched at it with my fingernails. I was angry, frustrated, crying, and screaming. Fortunately, I was alone. John was blessedly elsewhere. I don’t remember where.
When I finally exhausted myself and calmed down, I looked at the painting. It was marvelous. It was angry, full of life, energy, and amazement. Red, black, blue, yellow, gold, orange, and dark green jumped off the canvas. I wish I had kept it or at least photographed it, but I didn’t’. Years later, I sold it for a pretty penny. The only painting I ever sold.
You’d think that after that I would have had a light bulb go on in my head, “Hey, dunderhead, you’re emotionally repressed that’s why you can’t paint! This one is raw, real, and YOU! That’s why it’s good.” No, I didn’t get it. I never repeated the success of that painting, no matter how hard I tried. I guess we just can’t fake raw emotion.
Now, in my golden years, I could easily do this. Raw emotion is at my fingertips, just ask my husband. But that’s not where my life is now. I prefer words. Words are my expression of self. Maybe someday, I’ll wake up and smell the turpentine and linseed oil, but for now, it’s words. For my visual art fix, its photography or pixels.
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