Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Painting is like being trapped behind enemy lines.

Painting has changed drastically for me in the last 8 months.

Not just what I do, but particularly how I think about what I do. When you start painting nearly all of your attention is wrapped up in controlling paint. (provided that your goal is to make paintings that look like something, not expressions of emotion or as I like to call them, "Temper-tantums.") Really, for the first 10,000 hours or so, all you are trying to do is make the painting DO what the hell you tell it to. You spend your time studying painters. Sargent, Vermeer, Gerome and Bouguereau. You pick them apart for their genius, their technique and their brilliance.

Sargent was a brilliant painter. And for that I
will never forgive him.

After a while, this learning curve levels out and the focus of your work no longer becomes the acquisition of skill. That's not to say that you don't actively try and improve, but there is a big difference between training to "just finish" a mile and to "shave two minutes off your time". It is here when you realize what that game is really about.

I had a an acquaintance through a mutual friend in college. His father served in England's SAS, or "Special air Service" as a medic. The SAS are world renowned for their training and tactical ability. Generally if you are a "bad-guy" the SAS are generally people you want to stay away from.

If you see a bunch of guys dressed like this
swing in through your window. Run.

One night while at a friends house, SAS-boy shared a few of his fathers best war stories. One in particular revolved around a firefight in which he was separated from his unit. After being wounded by small arms fire, he avoided enemy capture, while bleeding, for two weeks. That's two weeks of blood loss, two weeks of not sleeping and two weeks of not being captured by a bunch of guys with guns who are actively looking for you.

Less like this.

More like this.

While it seems like an odd comparison being a professional painter is not unlike being SAS-boy's father. Survival in this game has nothing to do with technical genius, virtuosity or brilliance. Ultimately the one that comes out victorious, is the one that survives. Above all else, painting takes endurance.

This take endurance?

Ok ha, ha. Yes, holding a brush is not like being shot by a Desert Eagle .50 jackass. However, the resolve to continue painting after being rejected from a gallery, or have a show garner a bad review or to be working in a style deemed "dead" by art critics, is about the closest thing you can feel to being shot without actually taking one in the chest.

When I first started studying Sergeants work, I was absolutely awed by his ability. Now what awes me is the guys endurance. He painted over 900 oils paintings, 2000 watercolors and more sketches and drawings than I can possibly count. Van Gogh painted well over 900 oils as well. And yet, only ever sold one: for $1,600. Van Gogh lived to be 36. If you figure Van Gogh started painting when he as 28, that's an annual income of $200.

It is relatively easy for us to see how Van Gogh's endurance failed. But still even up to that point, his endurance is well and truly astonishing.

And before we well and truly blame financial failure on Van Gogh's suicide consider that Rembrandt found fortune early on, but died nearly bankrupt. And of the 600 paintings, 300 etchings and 1400 drawings he completed, some of the best ones were the ones that were created during the years of financial hardship bordering on destitution.

Ultimately, this is not a case of "The Tortoise and Hair" but more a case of "The Tortoise, the Hair and the Man made of rock with 18 pound balls of carbon steel." Ultimately the prize may not go to the guy who is the best painter. The prize goes to the guy who soldiers on despite being sleep deprived, shot, chased by pissed of enemy soldiers and lost.

In the end, the ones that succeed are not the fastest.

The ones who succeed are the ones who endure, even if it kills them.

Art is a Marathon People.

-Genius out.

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