The year I turned 50, I committed myself… to becoming an artist.
With my children well launched, I saw time and energy opening up, and decided to examine a question asked of me (years earlier):
“Why is art always leaking out of you?”
The better question was, “If the art leaks out, then why am I not an artist?”
I thought it was because I hadn't been taught to paint.
So I took a class and discovered that the only way to get better at painting was by actively painting.
I knew I had to start painting and keep on painting until the paintings were, well… paintings.
But what was I supposed to paint?
I thought the answer might be at the museum.
I spent weeks at every major museum in my state, and for the first time in my life, I forced myself to really look at the art. I read the descriptions with far more than a cursory glance, and inch by inch I really studied the paintings, drawings and sculpture that I found.
I started recognizing different artists when I saw their work from across a gallery. Words like “Oh, hello, Pablo...” started coming into my head as I walked the marble floors, and gradually, I started understanding the periods and movements I was seeing.
I bought a book filled with gossip about the lives of the artists; who was sleeping with whom, who liked to drink, and other dirt that further humanized the greats. Sure, they made art that could literally move me to tears, but at they end of the day, they all put their pajamas on one leg at a time, just like me...
I kept on reading, and I kept on looking. To my shock, I started finding mistakes…
You heard that right. There were mistakes embedded in so much of the art I looked at. A wonky perspective in a landscape was hung next to a misplaced nostril or disproportionate digit. Sometimes the color mixing wasn't quite complete, and some pieces had clearly been abandoned (in disgust) by their (not yet) famous makers.
I can't describe the hopeful effect of this observation!
Contrary to everything my Mother had drilled into me, I learned that making art meant making mistakes!
So I had nothing to loose.
I vowed that I would force myself to make painting a week for a year, then committed to the endeavor by signing up to write a blog about it. I crowed incessantly about it on facebook so that I had no choice but to follow through.
But what was I supposed to paint?
Then I remembered the story of Vincent Van Gogh. When he taught himself to paint, he did so by copying the works of his favorite painters. I figured if Vincent had learned that way, he would be the perfect teacher for me. I read his biographies, and I studied his work as intensely as I had studied my own children's faces.
I carved out some space for a studio, bought some more paint, and blocked my time. I ignored everyone who dared say “nay.”
In the Vincent Project Blog, I chronicled that year long commitment to teach myself how to how to paint, and in the process, how to become the artist I always wanted to be.
I made paintings and keep on making paintings until the paintings were, well… paintings.
Fitting art into my life was not easy. There were many times during the project that I wanted to give it up – sometimes because I thought I couldn't do it, and often when my life (and some of the people in it) were telling me that the project was nothing more than a quixotic waste of time.
But I didn't give up. I painted and I wrote, and I changed the way I see myself forever.
That was five years ago. Now, I make art full time, and my work is being collected, loved and shown.
That little leak of art has turned into a flood, and I am, finally, the person I'm supposed to be.
Art is important. Art matters.