Wednesday, December 10, 2014

IF NOTHING ELSE; how nice to paint

This one thought has been floating around in my brain since I read that the late poet Mark Strand's mother was a painter.

How nice to paint.

I have always felt this way. No matter what. No matter if I was in the glaring spotlight or in complete and utter darkness.

How nice to paint, and I suppose, by extension, how nice to be a painter.

You see, it dawned on me, like a brick to the head, that when I read that Strand's mother was a painter, that that was all that mattered. It didn't matter if she was a famous painter, or even a good painter. I just thought, how nice for him, how nice for her.

This goes along with what I have said before, that anything worth doing is actually worth doing badly, contrary to the popular aphorism. There are things in this world that are worth doing no matter how badly you do them.

How nice to paint.

I have always tried to spread this idea. I did it while teaching at RISD alongside other instructors who felt entitled to act as gatekeepers, to save the world from bad painting. As though they had either the right or the wisdom to discourage and even crush the dreams of young people.

How nice to paint.

Painting gives you a way to connect to the world. It inspires you to look. To see. To see colors. To see shapes. To see light. To see connections. To enjoy clarity. To enjoy ambiguity. It inspires you to put colors and shapes side by side. It inspires you to look really hard. To see what makes something what it is. To remember. To share those memories. To look inside. To share what can't be seen.

How nice to paint.

Painting invites us to see why one person looks the way they do, how they felt, how they made us feel(a recent trip to the Frick restored my appreciation of portraiture).

Painting gives us a way to share what matters to us. Do you see what I see? Do you feel what I feel? Do you think what I think?

How nice to paint.

Painting, like bicycling, is a more than the sum of the parts proposition. On a bicycle you may get where you are going, but it is the wind in your face and the sense of flight that makes it special. You won't find that anywhere in the spokes or the pedals or the handlebars. It is beyond the parts. So is painting.

Ultimately, as my old art history teacher, James Kettlewell, tried to tell me, it is not about paint. Like bicycling, it is where it takes you. It is not the finger but where it points. You could say that painting is more than the sum of the arts.

How nice to paint.

I remember as a boy in Rome when my mother's boyfriend, who was an aspiring opera singer, went off to see the maestro, a man who would decide if he would, as my mother put it, sing or sell ties. I knew that that was wrong even as a child.

How nice to sing.

I remember when a friend of mine decided to try his hand at being an art dealer, saying that he wanted to rid the world of bad art, even bad art by artists he deemed worthy. Because even great artists let bad examples of their work leave the studio! Again, as though he had the right or wisdom. As though he could not sleep until he had saved the world. As though bad painting was a personal affront to his very being, to the very gods.

How nice to paint.

I did my best as an art writer to encourage every artist about which I wrote. And for every time that I failed I am eternally sorry. I was mean to Jake Berthot in print. Sorry Jake. Very sorry. I was mean to Richard Merkin. Sorry Richard. They did nothing wrong. Quite the opposite.

How nice to paint.

As a curator I have placed the work of students alongside their teachers with great success. Outsiders alongside insiders with great success. Somebodies alongside nobodies with great success. Excellent rose food.

How nice to paint.

There is a rivalrous sickness in the world. Brother against brother. Sister against sister. Painter against painter. Parents pit their children against each other. Parents pit themselves against their children. Teachers pit their students against each other. And they pit themselves against their students. This is worse than mean. This is the worst kind of failure. Spite. Laziness. A failure of imagination. Of courage. A failure to encourage each individual, to respect the right of each individual to explore and fulfill their own lives.

I am both astounded and saddened by this sickness. To turn everything into a competition ostensibly to produce results. Sadly Somerset Maugham and Gore Vidal, two writers I once enjoyed and admired, are both credited for saying something along the lines that it is not only important to succeed, it is also important that others should fail, especially friends.

I say.

If you paint, if you are a painter, hold your ground; you have arrived. Keep faith and hope by your side. And keep your ego busy doing place settings or some such so that it doesn't interfere with the job at hand. And, of course, always remember what brought you. Never forget the love. The joy!

How nice to paint.

Addison Parks, Spring Hill, 2014

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