I have an artist friend who argues that hed be a very wealthy man today if hed chosen any other professionplumbing, blacksmithing, accounting or working as a short-order cookand given it all of the time and effort that hes invested in his art. He has no doubt of this.
“Oh sure,” I kid him, “but then you wouldnt have done all of that great painting over the years.” I remind him that art keeps life interesting, and that he would have gone crazy as a bat without it.
Artists belong to a unique club: Theres often little money circulating, and yet theres an undeniable sense of richness that money cant touch. Unfortunately, that very rich inner life, seen only in brief glimpses by the general public, may often appear slightly nutty. My theory is that artists are born tuned into a frequency that only they can hearlike natures own dog whistle. And to ignore that sound means trouble.
Think about it. Who else would lay awake in bed at 3 oclock in the morning, coveting someone elses value range? Or drool over anothers use of scumbling? And more than once, Ive been sketching in the air with my finger, then suddenly noticed that people were watching in mute horror and fascination as I whisper instructions to myself, “A nice thin line, yes yes ”
Another artist friend was once caught red-handed admiring a rope turnbuckle in a mens gym class. He had stopped to frame it up with both hands, movie-director fashion, squinting his eyes, studying the light and shadows. Then he noticed the entire class watching with questioning eyes.
Who can argue? Its a subtle form of madness.
And yet, theres a more outright form of madness out there: those people who refuse to follow the call of the whistle. Most of the time, people ignore the whistle because they fear failure. But whats failure, anyway? I believe that real failure is the blatant denial of your true calling. If you have it in your heart to paint a picture, play a piano, or sing a song, then nothing in this world should stop you. And nothing will, really, except for the little judge inside your head. The little judge fears failure, thats all.
But what happens if we do fail? I want to speak to the record on that one: Ive been rejected more times than I like to admit, and I can honestly report that the landing is a lot softer than youd think. And every welt and blue mark of failure brings with it a lesson of survival and hope. More to the point, it fuels the gusto to dust off and try it again. So I say, revel in your failures. Strut brazenly down the streets like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, strewing your rejection notices like rose petals. You see, if youve followed your callingno matter the quality of your current artworkyouve answered the Big Dog Whistle of Life, and a certain honor goes with the faithfulness of the response. In a way, its the real art of life, to faithfully follow that road no matter where it leads.
My friend who would be a millionaire is probably right about the money. But he doesnt dwell on the subject for too long. Hell laugh it off and something will suddenly catch his eye. And then hes in his own world again, framing the shape of a bird or a cloud with his hands, mad as a hatter to all the world.
Artist and writer Jim Chapman is based in Lula, Georgia, where he devotes most of his energy to pursuing the life of a country gentleman.