July 16, 2012
When I was in high school I decided I would make my career as an artist or a musician. I didn't make a career out of either but both have played a big part of my life. I have enjoyed them both more as a serious hobby than as a vocation. Last week I got it into my mind to paint a picture. At first I thought I'd do a portrait. The last portrait I did was of my nephew David. It turned out to be a nice painting but it looked nothing like David. So I decided that maybe I'd better stick to a still life.
So I got this bowl of fruit. I traipsed out to the farmer's market, because that's where they have the most naturally beautiful and inspirational fruit, the kind that's just singing out to be immortalized by an artist. I bought a big bag of apples and schlepped them home, carefully arranged them in a basket, set it in the perfect window light, and began to paint my masterpiece.
However, due to circumstances beyond my control, I ran out of time before I could finish. I had to agreed pick up my buddy Les' grand kids from band practice and fix the front door and this and that and everything but my art, which somehow always winds up on the bottom of the to-do list. But no matter. Quit whining and quit complaining! What kind of artist are you? This is how you suffer.
Right, I've learned that if you want to be an artist, you've got to suffer and the way that I suffer is to take care of business around the house.
But I'd better get back to my painting pretty soon because this morning I saw my wife hovering around the basket of apples. She wanted to eat my model! She'd eaten up all the rest of the fruit in the house except for a few rotten bananas and now she's eyeballing my apples. She wants to eat my model for breakfast, for crying out loud.
What if this had happened to Cezanne? What if this had happened to Van Gogh? Actually maybe it did happen to Van Gogh. That's why he painted sunflowers; nobody wanted to eat his sunflowers. First he tried to paint fruit, but he was too hungry. A real starving artist is never going to paint a basket of fruit. Staring at a basket of fruit all day is just going to drive him mad and he's either going to do something crazy like cut off his ear, or he's going to eat his model, or maybe both.
So therein lies the problem. I've really got to go and paint that basket of fruit pronto, not because I'll lose my inspiration if I don't, but because it'll get eaten. Or maybe I should go and get some more fruit to keep my art-cannibal wife away from my fruit basket. These are the trials and tribulations of the artist.
I was at the art store the other day and one of the girls who works there was painting a fish while she waited for customers. It was a frozen fish. Apparently she keeps a fish in the freezer and takes it out periodically to paint it, but before it thaws too much she throws it back in the freezer. So it never really stinks like a fish and it never really goes bad.
I mean, it's not good anymore, not good enough to eat, surely, but it just smells like a frozen fish, which is really not that bad an odor, certainly not any stinkier than some of the art students who come into the store to buy supplies. This is a nice compromise for a model. Not something that anybody really wants to eat unless they get desperately hungry, yet reusable and still very fresh-looking, very lifelike, or corpse-like, or whatever it is you call a dead fish.
I suppose there are other things I could use as models. I could buy a basket of wax fruit, for example, but then when I painted it, if I did a really good job, I'd have a lifelike image of wax fruit, which isn't the sort of thing I have in mind. That would be like using a department store mannequin as a model instead of Mona Lisa. I don't think that would look quite the same, although you wouldn't have to worry about getting her to laugh at your jokes every morning.
Being an artist is a full-time job. You're always looking at the world for inspiration, always looking at how you can capture a little piece of reality for posterity, so everyone who ever sees your work will be taken back to that moment of clarity and epiphany that you re-create for them to witness. This is your reason for being, the reason you paint. If only your wife wouldn't eat the apples you might have a chance for greatness.
I can't help but think that God was an artist and He had a family like mine.
He created one out of dust and gave them this garden to live in and the one request He had for them was, "Please don't eat the basket of apples. I'm painting that. OK?"
We all know how that story ended.