Painting is an interesting activity for many reasons, not the least of which is the 10,000 hours, 1000 canvas business of getting better at it. I would say that if someone is of the temperament that if they are not good at something, they won’t do it, then painting realistically is not for them. On the other hand if someone tells me in passing that they like to paint but they are terrible at it, I tell them just paint 100 canvases before you judge yourself. At this point I realize that maybe as people, we pursue those past times for which we have some proclivity.
We have all heard about the person that couldn’t change a flat tire. I was struggling in university in my 30’s and met an art student at a college party who told me about the Johnson O’Conner Institute in Washinton, DC. At this point in my life, I had spent my adolescence on a farm mending fences, bailing hay, demolishing old buildings to recycle wood, building chicken coups, not to mention hours pulling weeds, and getting up close and personal with the food chain. I had apprenticed in mechanical construction and had licenses in operating large high pressure boilers. I thought I was mechanically inclined, but I didn’t want to be a plumber. I had been a group home counselor for developmentally disadvantaged adults and was returning to school to try and make a difference for a larger segment of society. I have since decided that I make a bigger difference, one person at a time.
I remember about the time I graduated from high school that my father said he would not support me in studying architecture, and a girlfriend’s mom had told me art was just as important as law or medicine. Anyway, Johnson O’Conner was the guy who figured out that women did better on an assembly line; because, they could do the same task repeatedly for 8 hours without screwing it up; whereas, men could not. O’Conner had a theory that we were born with mental schemata, natural abilities. For some of us it was music, or math, or language. For me it was visual memory, sequences, and they said... I sucked at the stuff they measure in school... number facility and language. They also said, try to muddle through school and take up something like architecture.
For some reason, I was drawn to art. I loved art, sketched in grade school, etc. I always aced any art class I took and lived for projects in other subjects that allowed visual aids. Design was okay, too. But at this point, I hated calculus, physics, and chemistry, and ultimately ran out of resources in order to pursue my college degree in art.
So in my mid thirties, after twenty years of college, I started painting... it was innocent enough at first... fun even, but there was a huge disconnect between what I imagined I could paint and what came out of the end of my paint brush. I should say, I was an okay draftsman. I could draw technically, and could visualize 3D space. That feeling has never really left me, the curious one about the paintbrush and my imagination. Fortunately, I have my own style, which I’m told is marketable... if someone can walk up to my painting on a wall and recognize it as mine from my style. Maybe collectors will understand that and buy my art.
But that does not resolve the dilemma for me of what’s happening at the end of my paintbrush. It’s frustrating. My mentor once said, “learning to paint is learning how to see.” We learn to see differently as artists, I had an advantage, I was observant, I had visual memory, but I was also colorblind... none of that really prepared me for painting. I had to do the work... paint the 100 heads.
I still learn new to me art stuff almost every day, after painting twenty plus years. It’s surprising really. Being self taught, I’m sure I would not have learned some of it even in art school, but roses.... roses are elusive. I have to admit, I have not painted 100 roses... and I should, but I’m not sure, at this point, if I am committed to it. I’m not sure I care enough that my rose looks distinct from a glop of yogurt on the canvas. I mean I care, I try my best... but there is so much more to painting a rose than a YouTube video about painting imaginary roses... more than just color theory, being able to see the value and temperature shifts, more than understanding painting Munsell spheres. There is something about seeing that rose... the one right in front of me and being one with it... some kind of Jedi meditation required to capture that rose with a glop or 100 of paint strokes on a two dimensional surface and making it look like that tree, rose, or person. I should also say, the objective is to understand that little Buggar and mix the right values and colors the first time and paint it in 20 strokes or less and stick the landing. They say that comes with experience. It was either Leonardo or Michelangelo that said someone told them their marbling looked like cottage cheese... so they practiced painting marble, until they perfected it.
I love painting roses. Painting roses is fun and easy... I know how to paint roses, I mean I should, really, but I’m not happy with my roses. I know there is something missing... like playing scales on a guitar neck and then one day it clicks... it becomes muscle memory. It’s like flesh tones... you can look at a painters flesh tones and tell they have it... that certain je ne sais quoi.
I can paint anything, earth, water, fire, air... marble, flesh, roses. But to paint what I see in my minds eye.... to have that come out of the end of my paint brush... I think I have not discovered that yet. Have you ever heard about the artist’s curse? Do you understand why Monet was burning his paintings in the garden?
‘Had we but world enough and time...’ - To His Coy Mistress - Andrew Marvel 1681