18. Art is Free

Dear Sade,

The most memorable short story I ever read was J.D. Salinger's 'From Esme with Love and Squalor'. Four times I've read it and I will avidly continue to do so whenever the mood takes me. At one stage in my life, if anyone told me how much they disliked Salinger's writing, I promptly wrote them off my 'Friendship List'... in fact they were instantaneously rendered invisible! Fortunately I have changed since then and I now respect everyone's right not to like J.D. Salinger, or for that matter Pat Conroy, John Steinbeck, Tom Wolfe, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Adams, Robert Ruark, John Irving, David Weiss, Paul Theroux, Richard Brautigan and e.e. cummings. Having your own preferences comes with the territory of life and anyway, have you noticed that conversations where everyone constantly agrees are downright tedious?

There are times, however, when 'going against the general flow' can make one somewhat unpopular with fellow artists. Like the time when a rather laid back young art graduate came into my studio and announced that he was going to start painting again. "Why?" I asked. He eyed me quizzically before replying: "I'm taking up the brush again because art is therapeutic... isn't that why you paint?" "No," I responded. "I paint because it's challenging, dynamic, scary and stimulating... therapy doesn't come into it at all."

In my work as an artist the only consistent thing is change and there's nothing therapeutic about that. Sade, don't misunderstand me here, I am not saying that all artists must paint with fiery, tempestuous zest! There are those who take delight in the therapeutic approach to art indulging themselves in recreating delicate, tranquil scenes of duck-inhabited ponds or verdant, rolling daisy-decked hills. Although I personally find these fastidious, twee paintings to be about as inspiring as an unmade bed, they too have a place in the overall scheme of things. There is a beautiful, unbreakable Silver Thread linking all creative artists - out of choice they do what they have to do without 'looking down' or 'waiting for the right mood' or 'inspiration' and they keep going consistently without deviation, prodigiously drawing on a dynamic, vital belief in themselves and what they are doing.

Sade, the choice is there - you too must do what you have to do because you have to do it. Paint fervently, paint with passion, paint to boldly express yourself, not to please or impress others. If you paint with the objective of pleasing others, be it your boyfriend, your mother, your best friend or your grandfather then you will succeed only in deceiving yourself. There is a joke about the advertising executive who, when asked by his most important client what the time is, responds by saying: "What time would you like it to be, Sir?"

When you are out there on the high seas of individualistic self-expression and you're riding the wild wave of artistic creation the objective is a simple one: self-fulfilment not self-deception. Rest assured in the knowledge that if you work hard consistently and imaginatively at something you love doing, you will succeed. Your style is your own, it is your 'mark' as unique as your fingerprints - no-one can change this. If you are meant to paint you'll know it, there are no half-measures. A rather flippant woman once came into my studio and said: "You paint for a living I paint for a giggle." Sade I am not writing this for someone who sees art as a 'bit of a laugh' so here it is again: if you are meant to paint you'll know it.

OK, here comes another bucketful of uncompromised honesty: if you are like me you will go through stages when you dislike your own art, When this happens I say to myself: OK, this too will pass; although I don't like this work at the moment at least it is mine, it does not look like anyone else's, this is me just as I am.

Sade if you want to make wonderful, wonderful music with your art just be yourself and create to your own tune... believe me, it'll show.

Love Gramps
May 1999