I just sold a painting I thought I wanted to keep forever. It went to a very good friend who has wanted it for months. (She lives nearby, too.)
I’ve listened to painters talk about the struggle in the creation of a finished piece. The struggle, the failures, the wrong turns, the stress, the self-doubt, destroying a painting to make it better–all real but fairly new to me. Oh, I struggled with a collage now and then, but there you’re shifting the pieces around. You don’t glue them until you’re happy with it. With a painting, you put something down, you might hate it immediately and take it off, or you may like it at the moment and an hour later or the next day, you hate it. A dog’s breakfast.
This painting is significant to me partly because it was such a struggle. I worked and worked on it, again and again rejecting what I had done. And then, suddenly, it was finished. A triumph! I had solved the problems with it. The painting and I had reached an agreement. I fell in love with it. There are many things I love about it: the “string of pearls” at the top, the pops of orange, pink and red, poking through all that luscious blue, the dots and pink circles I made with my fingers, the many layers of color and mark. I felt that I had achieved a certain level of mastery with this one. I love this painting.
Then it was chosen to go to the Daum Museum in Sedalia MO along with art works by several other Missouri artists whom I admire. That was thrilling. It meant that others, people who know a few things about art, felt that it was a triumph, as well. It spent the summer there. And I went with three friends to see my painting hanging in a museum, no less!
Meanwhile, my friend really wanted it. She was saving a spot on her newly painted wall. She made several overtures. I thought no, I want to keep this one because of what I went through to finish it. We talked. I said I’d see how I felt once I brought the painting home.
Then I realized that, as they say, it’s the doing of a thing that is more important than the thing itself. I will always hold the feeling of my triumph. I will always have the satisfaction of having struggled and broken through to the other side of that struggle. I will always remember the excitement I felt when, suddenly, it was finished and suddenly, I loved it.
I don’t need to have it here in order to feel those things and know those things. I did that. I feel that. That will not go away if the painting goes and lives somewhere else. And my friend really loves it. Aren’t these the things we’re looking for when we create? Our own pleasure and growth in the doing, plus the knowledge that what we’ve made brings joy to someone else? So I leaned towards selling it to her, leaned into the idea, and then, on a gorgeous evening at an outdoor concert, I said I’d love for her to have it if she still wanted it. And her face lit up. So that’s that. Another sudden breakthrough.
I am continually surprised at how painting–creativity in general but somehow painting in particular–teaches me things, helps me grow, adds layers to who I am. Just as I add layers to my paintings, they add layers to me. You cannot beat that. Cannot.
“Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping stone to other things.” ― Pablo Picasso
“The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort towards wholeness.” ― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water
“To talk about paintings is not only difficult but perhaps pointless too. You can only express in words what words are capable of expressing– what language can communicate. Painting has nothing to do with that.” ― Gerhard Richter
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Thanks for listening,
P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”