A little more magic, please

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Work in progress, a painting of my friend Ben Viscon’s wine bar

Sometime during my Life, Examined exhibit a woman came up to me and said, “I don’t understand what you’re doing here at all.”

I tried to explain about installation art — but she stopped me. “No, I mean, you can’t sell any of this,” she said.

The comment shocked me. “Art’s not about selling,” I told her. “It’s about connecting with someone visually and emotionally, communicating an idea or a feeling in a different way than words.”

But I knew what I was saying wouldn’t click for her. And ever since then, I’ve been thinking about how we’ve gotten to this place culturally, where the role of art has changed so drastically.

Art was probably our first way to communicate. And sometimes with a painting or an image, I believe we can still speak more directly, straight to the heart, straight to the gut. You can be moved to tears, or nausea, by a powerful black and white photo for example — without even thinking or putting into words why. You just feel something immediately; you can describe what it was later.

In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, painting was used as a way to connect people with the feeling of the divine — and even now those frescoes in cathedrals retain the power to take your breath away.

How cheap it would be to make art all about money, about what sells and how to market it. Of course, much of the “art world” and many “artists” are doing just that.

When I invite people to my art shows, it’s not with the hope that they will buy my paintings. I want to share my experiences, thoughts and emotions. I want to see if anyone connects. I hope to put some beauty out into the world.

We all have an opportunity to learn from art, to discover what moves us visually, to connect with communities even. Think about how molded your identity can be by music,  politics, philosophies, religion. When you learn to be an artist, you do the same thing. You discover what symbols speak to you, what visions you have, what visual memories shaped who you are, what pictures hit you. Then, you form your own visual voice.

Everyone can do this — artist or not — and I believe everyone will benefit from this exploration.

Françoise Gilot, one of Picasso’s ex-wives who was an amazing painter and writer, quoted him as saying, “Painting isn’t an aesthetic operation. It’s a form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange, hostile world and us, a way of seizing the power by giving form to our terrors as well as our desires.”

And can’t we all use a little more magic in our strange, hostile lives?

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Responsibility for quality

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My new painting, “What a planet we live on, that allows us to love”

On August 1, my friend Mac wrote an interesting post on my Facebook page:

The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on or blame. The gift is yours, it is an amazing journey and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins.

The message was strangely right on target. Just the day before, I received a work-related phone call that drastically changed my life. Due to budget cuts and media mergers, I found out I was losing most of my income source.

At first, I was angry, then hurt. Next, I felt a sense of relief. I woke up in a panic the following few days, worried that I was way behind on my to-do list. Then, I remembered that my to-do list had been dramatically reduced.

Now, I worry about getting by. I think being a professional artist is basically a myth. The “art world” often doesn’t take painters seriously if they have a day job. But unless you have a trust fund or a wealthy partner or overly generous parents, not having a day job for an artist means not having a place to sleep or food to eat.

I have always had multiple jobs and struggled to make ends meet. I’ve painted during the hours that I didn’t have to work. While I wish that painting could be my one and only, I am also keenly aware of the reality of not having an income.

But I have been working so hard for the past few years that I have lost touch of the quality of my life. I want to take a chance to mold my days more around what I love to do. And I welcome a new beginning.