If You Wish You Could Paint, You Can
Based upon everything that I was taught, and which I have learned on my own, points to a basic truth: to be human is to be able to create yourself and to be able to create yourself is to be able to create your life. Now, unfortunately and particularly due to institutional pressures, very few people ever have the opportunity to do that. Yes, there is more opportunity to make a ton of money, but I’m talking about having the opportunity to be free to create the person you become.
It all begins with a deep desire to be able to respond to things that truly move you. So when I hear someone say, when looking at a painting, “I wish I could do that,” I think to myself, “She absolutely can.” All she needs is a teacher to show her how to get that desire out and express it on a canvas in a way that makes the desire come alive.
Okay, I have a story for you that makes the same point, but before I tell you the story take a look at the painting and a detail of the painting below:
The painting, of course, is by Van Gogh. It is a simple study. Notice how free his brushstrokes are. He is past the flower, just enjoying who he is, expressing who he is, becoming who he is most. Okay, let me tell you a story about someone whose favorite painter was Van Gogh.
It was 1995. I lived in San Francisco and was exhibiting my work in an outdoor art exhibition in San Francisco’s Union Square. It was one of those rare days in San Francisco. It was just hot as hell. I was sitting down when I noticed a young woman walk into my display area. She was looking at my work carefully, moving from one painting to the next. She seemed to be genuinely interested so I decided to approach her. By the time I was close enough to say something, she was leaning forward looking very intently at a particular painting and I heard her say, acknowledging my presence, “I wish I could do that.”
Oh my goodness, she said the magic words.
“Have you ever painted,?” I asked.
And she looked up toward me and I noticed – how could I not – that in addition to saying the magic words, she was quite attractive.
Now before any of you jump to the conclusion that I was some lecherous old geezer, I was single, still had dark hair, and wasn’t the basket of flab that I am now. Anyway, I quickly developed a strategy: I decided to project magnanimity.
“Well, you know, if you have a deep desire to paint like that, you can. All you need is someone to teach you how to express the visual sensations that move you.”
“So let me tell you what I’m going to do.”
A look of caution crossed her face.
“If you would like, I will give you a free lesson.”
“Yup. Are you free Friday night? I’ll set up a still life in my studio and I will walk you through the method I use. Trust me. If you are moved by what you see, I can teach you how to move others.”
“Yes young lady. It’s your lucky day!!”
No. I’m just making up that last line. But the rest of the story is true. Well, not entirely true. The painting above is not by Van Gogh. It was painted by the young lady who walked into my exhibition that day, Conchitina Miguel. If you’ve ever taken a class with me, you know her as my gracious and helpful wife who organizes our workshops and runs our gallery.
What I get a kick out of when I see the paintings that she does is that had she and I not met that day, the odds are pretty good that she never would have painted, ever. Unfortunately, Conchitina, while she paints when she can, really hasn’t painted that much over the years. (We are working on ways to make that change. Ahem!)
But the point is this: do you wish you could paint? And you are a bank executive making gazillions? Well, there is good news. I or some other teacher can set you free. You can become the person you are most. Of course, as with everything else, it takes time to learn, so there is a good deal of frustration. It comes with the territory (or used to!). But painting is an activity that can be joy driven when you let go of many valued but not terribly important things. So regardless of the results, when you paint, you have the chance to feel your strength and to exercise your powers. Find a good teacher and become more of who you really are. Forget the secret technique baloney; we are talking about your freedom to be you – but only more!
Thanks for playing along, Vincent. But the painting above was actually signed…