Father Knows Best

An art dealer told me a long time ago, “People don’t want a bargain when they buy art. They want the best.” Not all the advice he gave me was good, but I think this advice was bullseye. With some qualifications, of course.

It is incumbent upon the artist to deliver his or her best. It might be the best act of making art or it might be the physical piece of art. Hopefully, it is all applying.

And why wouldn’t an artist want to deliver the best they can do?

My father said the person you really are, is the person you are when no one is around. That’s mostly where art is made. In private. You can be surrounded by people, but when you make art, you are alone, inside yourself, making this expression. Then, no one knows if you have given it your all or not. He also said for me to do my best but did not define that.

You are your own judge and jury.

It is with great irony that from the solitude of painting comes a very public thing. The art show.

It gives me a high to have an exhibit, but it is also extremely uncomfortable. Shows help me see how I have changed. Like one would mark a child’s growth with a pencil on a doorframe. A personal assessment.

Even when I did my best, it would always unsettle me to see the painting. I only saw what I should or shouldn’t have done. I try not to look at it that way, but I can’t help it. It’s only when someone invites me over for a meal and I’ve forgotten they bought a painting, and then I see it and am surprised by it. That’s as close to objectively viewing my painting as I get. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes worse, than my memory of it.

One thing I do like is I always remember the day and the small details—a physical memory of sorts. When a man came up and spontaneously began to laugh, because it made him feel good. A story someone told me about the car I was painting. These are pages in my diary.

After a show, there is the inevitable letdown—no matter how successful the show. I know it’s coming, so to offset this, I try to do something for myself that isn’t art related. A diversion. I treat myself to something. It helps some, but mostly I tell myself this feeling will pass, and it does. But one of the ways it passes best, is to paint again.

Shows motivate me to paint.

Why I try to give my best when I already know my best is going to disappoint me is a mystery. When the show goes up, I am satisfied, but it’s not how perfect the painting is. It’s the satisfaction you get from a long run where you gave your all. You don’t admire the run. You are exhilarated by it. Exhausted.

In discussing why she still painted, someone told me the artist Mildred Wolfe said, “I paint because I keep thinking something good will happen.”

I think she was right.

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