This morning while pulling on briefs, the merest fleck of red paint showed on the waistband. It was there from some frantic painting session, long ago for the record, in which the painter hurriedly sat down to finish some section of an artistic endeavor.
The formal language here and third-person dialect is necessary because this is of self examination we speak. But not alone.
Living with paint
To be a painter is to live with paint, first and foremost. A painter chooses which type. There are many types. Oils. Acrylics. Gouche. Watercolor. Many painters switch from one medium to the next depending on the subject. This is like changing languages, you see. You are moving from English to French, German… to some Spanish or African set of words to convey what you mean to say. Paints are like races of people. Quite different yet all the same. They speak not a common language but have a common purpose. God loves them all, if you must know.
To live with paints is also to ignore them at times. This is a confession of sorts. That you can’t muster the will to paint merely on a whim. You must have the drive, even some inspiration, to paint. Or, driven to fever by your subject or mission, you paint away in a fury. It works both ways.
There are false starts and big finishes. Marathons and short sprints. Long hauls in an uphill ride to the finish.
A painter is a long distance athlete born and bred to run and ride on canvas, paper, board, plastic, glass, brick and even the human body. But a tattoo artist is not a painter. They call themselves “tattoo artists” as a rule of declaration. We will leave the presumptions to be analyzed by those who know better.
A painter learns to live with paint on their bodies, or to remove it when necessary. Going out, for example, requires some cleaning up, lest people think you mad or dirty. Going to work, as one is wont to do while forgetting about the paint on your hands, definitely draws some stares. People who don’t paint really don’t know what to make of a painter.
Which is ironic, because painting is just as hard work as anything in this world. There are decisions to make at every moment. Critical decisions. Decisions that can make or break a piece, even drive to ruin hours of effort laid down carefully, and with love. Then, collapse. A few brush strokes of your chosen medium at the wrong moment can throw a whole work completely off.
That kind of immediate pressure is seldom faced even by leaders of Fortune 50 companies, who depend on others, most unkindly at times, to help them make critical decisions. But a painter usually sits alone, illuminated only by the lamp that bathes the work space, painting.
So-called creative types are not trusted much in this world to make decisions in business or other arenas. They make come up with the Big Idea that drives a campaign, but then it is wrested from their hands, wrenched from their wrists to become the Project. And from there less creative types bring it home. Destined to make money, if it works.
A good painter knows how to make money with their own hands, and a truly creative person is often one that is quite well organized where it counts. Those would seem to be traits worthy of employment in some fashion. Collectors of great paintings know these traits to be true. They value the decisions that lie beneath the image, from underpainting to last flecks of highlight. It is interesting given this intimate history that many of the greatest movements in art bear labels that were at first used as insults, of a form. Impressionists. Expressionists. And so on. It works the same way in religion, you see. Methodists. Lutherans. There is a form of departure, then imitation that follows. Those who disagree with the departure tend to ostracize, even demonize, the new school of thought. Conservatives. Liberals. Libertarians. There is much to be learned from the study of painters. They are prophets in many respects.
Knowing how to fall apart
A pair of painters once walked into a gallery displaying the artwork of John Singer Sargent. Across the room hung a vivid painting of a mountain pass. As the two painters walked across the room one of them stopped and blurted, “Oh no!” It had become apparent as they grew closer that the painting would literally fall apart as they approached. The brush strokes were so bold and confident they were the height of efficiency. And so being, they could not be imitated or perhaps even learned by anyone with the wits to know true mastery with a brush. Standing next to that Sargent painting was to be united with an act of creation itself. It was as real as real could be, yet it did not exist. This is how we all live. This is how we all die. A great painter can do that do you. Render you helpless, if you know what you’re seeing.
Methods and madness
It is interesting, isn’t it, the life of a painter? Those who try to paint learn in a variety of ways. There are classes that teach people how to paint a certain way. To render subjects in dabs of color. But they barely teach one how to be a painter. In fact they may well teach you to be something else entirely.
Learning to paint is a question of technique, most certainly. Unless the technique is called into question at every moment of progression, however, it is doomed to fail in the long run. For a painting technique that fails to demand a definitive approach leaves you the type of painter that is imprisoned to the technique, never liberating from the method to the statement one is trying to make.
Traces of that last objective are bound to wind up in other phases of your life. A painter trying to liberate the senses from technique and method is one who dares every day to create something more than a painting. A connection to the subject that transcend the paint. It is a good way to live, but no one said it was easy. And that’s the beauty in being a painter.