Thoughts on Being an Artist…

Lately it’s struck me that there is no point at all writing novels just as I figured out not long ago that there is no point at all painting pictures. Then I was looking at some old journals (I’m in a “throw that shit out!” frame of mind) and I wrote, back in 2009? 10? that without art there’s no point.
I believe these two contradictory statements are equally true. I’ve learned a lot this past summer/fall working so hard to promote a novel people don’t want to read. I’ve learned that good writing and a compelling story ISN’T the whole thing at all — it’s what the STORY is ABOUT, it’s what people expect and want from a novel — points that don’t actually concern an artist, strangely.
Long, long ago my art teacher told me I was not an artist. I just said, “OK, I’m not an artist.” If I happened to make some art, I wasn’t fooled by it. If I made it, it couldn’t be art. Then, one afternoon, I visited my wonderful philosophy teacher, Rhea Stavrides. I told her I wasn’t going to major in philosophy after all, that after reading Spinoza and Kant it didn’t seem to be anything I couldn’t figure out for myself. She laughed and held my hand between hers and said, “Of course you cannot major in philosophy. You are an artist!”
The problem with painting is that it is expensive. Really expensive if you do big paintings with lots of paint. I looked at some paintings in Taos a few months ago and the painters were slapping that shit on giant canvases, using knives or huge brushes. I thought of my 5 x 7 paintings and realized it’s a matter of scale. A 1/2 inch brush on a 5 x 7 painting is the same thing, though, of course, the little painting is never going to dominate the space over a sofa or under a vaulted ceiling. Still, I could afford to paint it… Paint is drugs, diamonds, whatever — a votre guise
The other thing about being an artist is you’re going to be original whether you try or not. It’s just there. Did life cause it? Did the genetic soup of your parent’s conjugal moment cause it? I have no idea. Right now everything seems a lot like me riding my stationary bike. It doesn’t go anywhere. I ought to be miserable over all this, but mostly I just feel like, “Wow. I just ‘rode’ ten miles!” like I actually did.

19 thoughts on “Thoughts on Being an Artist…

    • Yep. I painted that. I used to paint on paper with gouache and those were larger paintings, too. I have painted some “normal” sized landscapes in recent years, and I covered the walls in one of my houses with murals – one of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch from Kleine Scheidegg. But those were single shots. My friend that day said, “You could hang your work in a gallery like this but it would have to be bigger.” I don’t actually know where I am as a painter right now. I fell in love with some oils made in Portland, OR after using Winsor-Newton forever. This company makes a paint-thinner which is a miracle fluid. And I also fell in love with painting on gesso panels that have real gesso on them not just some random white sizing. Those paints, that thinner and those panels are amazing to me. To paint something really BIG on those would be literally monumental. People do it, but they use several panels and create an installation.

      Sorry, I could go on all day…

      • I loved this painting! 🙂
        I believe the size of our works doesn’t make us artists it is the art work which matters. Um, for example: I am shorter than many many other humans, does that make me less human or no human? Nope! Galleries and people all have different tastes.. others tastes are not the determiner of who you are.. You paint, you are a painter 🙂
        Every art work has a message… I feel the message is the life of an art work. Although the message you have been contemplating while doing the work may not peek in the minds of the viewers, yet they will have some thoughts even if the reaction is like- ‘Whaaat?’
        The more days are passing the more strongly i feel unless i can serve (my spirit and/or others) with my works there is no point of doing it.. but i still should do ,keep doing so that i can work it that way..
        Btw i really appreciate your writings and your paintings so far i have seen 🙂

      • ❤ I think the point is doing the work for it's own sake and that's bizarre because years ago I thought "Art for art's sake? What self-indulgent twaddle!" But I just didn't understand what that meant. I'm glad you like my work. That means a lot to me.

      • Art for art’s sake reminds me of a lesson – knowledge for knowledge’s sake! When I heard this from my teacher I didn’t understand either.. I kept wondering until one day I discovered I love because I love ,it is not based upon any other reason or thing. Then I suddenly realized the meaning of- knowledge for it’s own sake ❤

      • Yep. I used to think art for art’s sake was some kind of precious and arrogant excuse for making incomprehensible art, and maybe it is, I am still not sure, but now I think it means serving the process, the product, having the faith to finish. Knowledge for knowledge sake? Absolutely. Knowing this is great but learning them is better, if that makes sense at all. You have really shone a light on this puzzle for me! ❤

  1. I’ve also been going through that somewhat periodic valley where I ask myself why on earth I am writing at all. I go for weeks at a time when absolutely nothing is selling. Then, some books sell, but the market doesn’t move enough to get within sight of anybody’s “best-sellers” list. Then several weeks pass when nothing sells again — in spite of special deals on several books and (even if I do say so myself) some fairly catchy sales pitches. So I think — I need to just stop this stupid career and do something else with my time and energy. But — doggone it — I can’t seem to NOT write! And that’s the crux of the whole problem: A writer writes — even when he plans not to — and an artist paints — even when he’s not got the right tools. I think we’re stuck being who we are.

    • We are definitely stuck being who we are and though I NEVER thought I’d say this (and pardon my French) fuck anyone who doesn’t like it. This marketing gambit has been incredibly expensive and netted NO sales at all, just some rather obtuse reviews by people who didn’t know what they were reading and would never have bought my book in the first place. I think a little part of me is angry about that, angry at myself.

  2. That is honestly one of my biggest fears in life, which seems unreasonable for a 19 year old just starting in college. I have alway been known for being “to mature for my age” even though that hasn’t really made sense to me at all, it has ended more relations between people than start. I have always been a very analytical person who has alway been on the straight and narrow path of life, I have always lacked the determination and lack of imagination to be able to become a writer or even an artist. Growing up, I loved building legos, but I could only follow the instructions and not being able to create any original ideas for the mass amount of resources I had at my disposal. As I entered college and have started my own life away from my hometown and everyone that I know, I have realized that I have a huge urge to become a writer but just lack the complete self motivation or self-esteem to actually show anyone my writing. I guess you can say that I have really gotten to know myself as I entered college, but I have always had doubts about what I am doing in life and even question why am I in the situation that I am in life. Could just be my mind running a muck, but I feel like I am having a mid-life crisis at a very young age. This post is all over the place and the gist of my nonsense and babbling is that I know where you are coming from with the stalemate that you are going through, (that is what I got from reading this post) but all in all you have some pretty good art and I wouldn’t mind hanging it up on my walls.

    • Xavier, you’re wonderful. Thank you for appreciating my work — that means a lot to me!

      And this crisis — you’re supposed to be having it at 19. I used to think it was BS but having had the privilege to have spent my life — or half of it, more than half of it — teaching 19 year olds how to write and studying Ericsson’s great book, Identity, Youth and Crisis, there really are some fairly uniform moments in life that are critical to the development of our individual identities and 19 is one of them. Everything you’ve written here is exactly what you should be pondering right now. You’re doing well!!!

      The only reason to write is because it’s part of who you are. I always knew I was a writer, since I was 2. Other people discover it later. The first thing is learning how and then life gives you your story or your purpose as a writer.

      Learning how requires discipline. It’s not important to show anyone your writing; when you are ready, you will. Hunter Thompson learned to write by typing out The Great Gatsby a ridiculous number of times. I personally don’t think of Hunter Thompson and F. Scott Fitzgerald as kindred souls, but Thompson wanted to understand HOW Fitzgerald wrote. I had a similar experience with Truman Capote, though it didn’t involve typing out In Cold Blood innumerable times (thank god).

      No writer ever really knows how to write. We learn all the time, and the best thing about writing is writing. I have some 30 journals that no one but me will ever see. They’re private writing. And then stories and novels I want people to see (and buy?) and the blog(s) all that. It’s a whole WORLD of ways and reasons to write, audiences to write for. It should be fun. When it’s fun, it motivates YOU.

      It’s NOT the painful slog self-indulgent, self-important people like to make it out to be. No real writer is a martyr to his/her writing. For most real writers, NOT writing is the painful part.

      Thanks for reading this post, Xavier.

  3. So much to think about in this post, Martha, as evidenced by the thoughtful, self-analytical comments it has received and your responses. I didn’t attempt to create anything during my professional life except the clothes I sewed for myself because I’m tall and couldn’t find anything that fit me right and the learning and laughter I created for my students, which I found fulfilling — most of the time. At sixty-five, I took up writing and found the process fulfilled me. Then I decided to self-publish a book and a wise friend, a self-published poet-author of three books, told me to do it because I wanted people who discovered it to enjoy it, not because of any money I might make because that would lead to disappointment.I half believed him and then discovered the truth of his words for myself. Yet still my joy in writing persists. I feel like a day without writing is a day without sunshine. And so I proceed. Will I do another book? I have no idea. And as I look at your paintings and read your words I always feel I’m in the presence of a creative person, an artist.

    • I’m not stopping but I am probably not going to attempt that kind of self-promotion again. It hasn’t been exactly demoralizing, more like confirming something I sensed but wasn’t sure of. Now I think I understand it and the upshot is I’m liberated from doing anything with my writing or painting except what I want to do or what a friend might like me to do for them. That is always a great pleasure. 🙂

      • What you want to do for yourself or the people you enjoy is the best pleasure of all, Martha. A local committee, chaired by a woman I like and respect, is trying to save an historic barn that served Craig as a community center for thirty years, but has fallen into disrepair and the commissioners want to scrape it rather than repair it. The committee asked me to write a newspaper column about barns to raise people’s awareness of what they meant to our past. I wrote it in a day, joyfully, as I thought about the barns of my childhood, something I hadn’t thought about in forty years.It was a pleasure.

  4. I’m really sorry your marketing didn’t achieve what you wanted – but I feel selfishly exonerated as well given I haven’t done any marketing at all.
    I never wanted to write ‘The Great Australian Novel’. It’s always been more a matter of ‘sum ergo scribo’ – or equally, ‘scribo ergo sum’.

    • You know, if I hadn’t paid for promotion, I would be very happy with how my book has sold. I did pay and I will never recoup what I put out, or if I do it will take years. But I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer that I wouldn’t have learned and that’s worth something, but I could really use the money since I have to repair my garage. 😀

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