For those of you who don’t know, I love art.
It’s more than that…I need it.
My kids know that some family trips will be built around certain city’s art museums, and my friends understand that my love of movies and books isn’t just entertainment, it’s a part of life.
So when I tell you this story, keep that in mind.
A very dear friend of mine is an artist. (Actually, more than a few of my loved ones are artists of various sorts. I love creative people and seem to gravitate towards them. Although I am also drawn towards the cranky, stoic, UNartistic types, so…maybe that’s extraneous information. I have a wide variety in my circle, let’s say.)
At a recent “art day” at his house (read; his wonderful wife fed us lunch and then she and I sat and watched while he brought in piece after piece of his for me to examine, basically treating me to my own personal exhibit of his work), I was thrilled by everything he showed me (the first time I’d seen a large body of his art), but the above painting just struck a chord in my heart.
I asked to see a few of them a second time, but this one, I just stared at, finally declaring it to be my favorite. I thought it was one of the most beautiful, interesting, and joyous things I’d ever seen. It’s also quite different from his other work–a few of his pieces are singular in that regard, representing departures from his usual, more realistic style, which only proves the depth of his talent, in my eyes. (I agree with Leonardo da Vinci that “…it reflects no great honor on a painter to be able to execute only one thing well”) It seemed…well, not out of character, but representative of an element of his character not often seen. Which always delights me.
So, I was dumbstruck when he said, “If you could pick one, to have, would that be it?”
I struggle with accepting things from people. A lifetime of trying not to be “too much trouble”, of feeling as if I have to keep the tally marks on each side of various relationship registers balanced…it’s always made me hesitant to take things I know I can’t repay easily.
Or at all, in a case like this.
That’s why, at first, I balked. (I actually got teary-eyed, and then I stammered something about it being too much.)
But then something happened, and after realizing that he truly wanted to give it to me, I took it.
During the time it was being framed, during the custody exchange when he brought it to my house (where I made assurances about protecting it until it was hung on the wall–a Greek epic all its own that involved a ladder, my son, his girlfriend, a tape measure, math, and lots of swearing), I was just as amazed by my feeling of entitlement to that beautiful work of art as I was to the idea that something so fantastic was going to be in my possession.
Because I felt, inexplicably and fully, that it was meant to be mine.
This is what he told me; on the day he painted it, he was on his way TO THE TRASHCAN with the canvas, in frustration about what had transpired on it up to that point, and had a change of heart at the last minute. He went back inside and just (in his words) went for broke and emptied the paintbox onto it.
The above was the result, an hour and a half later.
I believe it was made for me.
It’s always amazed me, that a painter can pour so much of himself or herself into a work, and then let it go. As a writer, I have it easy; not only is the work I produce mine, but if and when it gets published (in a shiny magazine or book), it can be shared without being lost to me. I get the recognition and appreciation, and still get to paw through hard copies of my own articles whenever I want. (Not that…I do that…often…or anything. That’s also not the case when ghostwriting, which we can talk about another time.)
A painter is giving you a gift when creating a painting. Everyone who sees it, whether they like it–whether they appreciate it–or not, has been the recipient of something primal and spiritual, that came from another person’s mind. A representation of beauty, meant to be shared in a sacrificial way. (Unless the painter is keeping everything and just inviting you to their house, which is rare).
To succeed, he/she has to share. Has to give away.
We owe a debt to artists.
Yes, we should be grateful to those who protect us, those who guide the governments and provide us with food and other necessities. But we also should be cultivating in ourselves and our children an appreciation for those who give the world art, and remind us on a regular basis of the beauty–both great and terrible–that life can hold. You may or not believe in God, and so my usual lecture about creativity pointing to our having been made in the image of a Creator may fall short, but if that’s the case, simply think of it as a unifying thread in human experience. Even when our forebears lived in caves, they painted images to tell stories, and communicate experience. It’s a fundamental part of who we are.
There are several things I tell this story to say.
Be willing to consider yourself worthy of good gifts, because you are.
Be thankful for all of the artists throughout history who have given all of us wonderful gifts to ponder, and pore over. Consider yourself worthy of them…while still appreciating the sacrifice that art often represents, for the artist.
Be willing to take chances and “go for broke”, creatively, as my friend put it. You could be creating something for someone else.
(Also, be hesitant to toss things in the trash.)
I’m incredibly grateful for the individual who, in this particular point in time, was open to the deep whim that moved him to create a masterpiece, something that has beautified my life, and enriched the atmosphere in my home.
Thank an artist today, even if it’s just in your own mind, for what they do for the rest of us.