Kids like to draw. Kids like to color. Some draw a lot and enjoy it for a great long while. But all, regrettably, at some point come to the realization that what they drew in their picture does not look like what they see. They realize the limitations of their dexterity at describing their reality.

“It down’t look lik’ dat in reality boy!”

What we do at that moment is really the question. All parents (hopefully) value their children’s’ first scribbles. The children recognize that they received praise for doing something! That is, besides going to the bathroom. J It is set in our brains early: cry…you get attention, laugh…you get attention, and for some, draw well enough…and get some attention. Mothers run to crying babies and everyone loves a happy baby. But, ones first drawings, singing, sculpting, collage, or mess…gets us BIG attention.

Next comes the experience when we don’t receive praise for the act of creation, but rather we receive criticism. We have all had the feeling at some time. When our expectations for praise result in less than we had hoped for. All of us, though eventually find something with which we receive praise or at least attention. We tend to work more for that attention. Soon, if it is something we like, we identify with it even if it is negative attention…at least someone notices us.

But for the aspiring artist, the question of what it is that you like about the act of creation, is more amorphous. If you are a student, then you can be just that—Studying. But, at some point you are no longer the student, and yet you are not the master either. Then, someone asks you, “What do you do? What are you interested in?”

The first time you reply, “I’m an Artist”, is the scariest declaration of ones life. It states:

  1. I think I can draw.
  2. I think that I have a vision of something worthy of showing.
  3. I think I can show something worthy of praise, and perhaps financial remuneration.
  4. I think I am brave enough to whether the criticism of others words and actions judging my artwork.

Study something long enough and hard enough, you become good at it, at least one would hope. Yet the most common thing people say when they learn you are an artist is: “I can’t draw stick figures”. This has become their safety net. This self-deprecating humor is their hoped for excuse for themselves. It gets them out from any threatening pissing competition that might be coming, but never does.

The next statement the person utters is: “Are you showing?” This question opens up your own insecurity as an artist, until of course you actually ARE showing…somewhere. But then comes the insecurity of “What if I’m not showing in a good enough place?” If you say your work is on display at the local convenience store or grammas fridge then the next question is the most embarrassing.

That next question being, “Are you selling?” I think this is where most artists tell some form of a lie until they really are selling more than they can make, or have need to make. This question is the hardest because it is the litmus test for our society. Profits = Good. And by extension Surviving = Good.

The statement coup de grace, for they believe they are being kind in stating it so that you don’t feel bad, “Don’t all artist die penniless and undiscovered?” Yes, it is a question, but it isn’t really, it is a statement. Why else would the common phrases, “Starving Artists” persist? Here then you have been kindly kept from humiliation because alas you are just a perfect example of the stereotype. How’s that! You can’t even escape the stereotype of the profession. And, what data do you have to refute the stereotype? You can’t defend yourself, and you can’t say, “I will be great!” You would look like a pompous ass.

I had the great displeasure of my boss saying to me one time: “Neal if you were the next Picasso, it would happened already.” As stinging as that comment was, it explains why we have the constant conventional knowledge, “Child Prodigy”. So, in essence, she was stating the understanding that she assumed I had come to on my own by now, that namely I am not a child prodigy. This is a double whammy, for it begs the question: “If I am not a child prodigy, yet I continue in art despite my debility I must be too intellectually impaired to know it?” Thus giving rise to the other commonly heard statement, “Dumb as an artist”.

Usually last thing that they talk to me about once I state I am an artist: “So did Van Gogh really cut off his ear?”  Does it get any worse?

So let’s recap, this person has read you up and down and has reinforced within your mind the cultural stigmas:

  1. You aren’t showing.
  2. You’re not selling.
  3. You don’t make a profit,
  4. And so therefore you aren’t good otherwise you would
  5. Reassurance of being penniless
  6. Undiscovered
  7. You aren’t a prodigy.
  8. Your too dumb to realize it
  9. Oh and your already too old
  10. And, if history serves as a judge to what happens to people who want to become artists…just look at Van Gogh. You are going to go CRAZY, cut off your OWN ear, mail it to a HOOKER, and then blow your own HEAD OFF with a shotgun. Oh…and for added enjoyment you won’t be recognized in your own lifetime. But fate, just to rub it in, will see to it after your dead!

And yet, despite it all I persist telling people I’m an artist.

How many times I have heard that exact conversation? I would rather be that person. The person who despite the prognosis of the worlds critics, still wishes to live the life of an artist.

The reason people state that they can’t draw is that they have never looked hard enough at something, to memorize it piece by piece and reassemble it. That is all drawing really is. How sad for them that they have never had THAT intimate of a conversation with a rose bud, a person’s face, or a beautiful day. How sad for them that they smelled the roses but never studied them. Does life go by so fast that nothing is worthy of deeper involvement? So sad, they have never had the joy of creating.

As for “All artists die homeless and penniless.” Actually, US Census data confirms that illustrators make more on average, $75,000 a year to be exact according to 2000 census. And this wage is higher than all other Arts professions. This is averaging all actors too!!! If you consider how much movie stars make, actors are one of the lowest paid professions. But, in the end, is your survival as a human only about…surviving? Do you not want to notice the beauty of the day going by everyday? Our world really is, despite our flaws, beautiful. According to the B gospels (gospels thought to be the writings of Jesus himself) Christ said, “This is Heaven”. To have lived a life and never have noticed; that is the saddest.

Is commerce the greatest descriptor of value? Or is not the greatest value found in the nature of creation. Does not the artist benefit the greatest by that score? Isn’t that why we all draw as kids…for the enjoyment of it? Why would you ever want that to stop? And why would you want to be “Discovered”, if one person likes what you do too, isn’t that enough? If more do too, isn’t that just icing on the cake. Why do you need to be validated by the “Establishment”? And who established the “Board” of critics? We have BAR for lawyers, professional practice and licensing boards for every profession, who gives art critics their license to judge?

Those who are critics are people that don’t create. Example: Simon Cowell.

Am I a prodigy? Did Einstein, Michelangelo, Rubens, Mozart, or anyone we esteem to be “Geniuses” ever consider themselves that? Or did they consider themselves just a person who liked to look for stuff of beauty? How are I, and every one who chooses to really look at and appreciate world, not like that? I, like them, am doing my best to reflect the world of beauty I see? How is that not like them? Are we all not prodigies?

Time is passing. I don’t live my life in fear that I won’t create amazing lasting works, but I live my life in the joy of realizing that “I” am the work that is being created. What I have seen and what I have witnessed. What I’ve learned. How did I treat people? Do I view all with suspicion and fear, or with love? And, if in the spare time of creating the best Neal possible, I manage to document the process in pictures, it would be nice.

As to my sanity, you be the judge. I want to run a marathon a day around a country that is at the greatest odds with itself intellectually since the civil war. At a total of 8000+ miles, my only motive is to experience it all. I wish to see the beauty housed in the museums, the national parks, and the relationships made along the path. I wish to fund the trip in part by selling drawings and paintings. And most of all, I wish to remind everyone WE ARE ONE!  Quantum physics has been very clear about this, at our essence we are one. There is beauty all around us.

My life, like most, it so full, that the time to create is so small and limited. Ultimately to have the supreme pleasure to do nothing but paint and draw a portion of what I get to see. Isn’t that enough?

In this process, I might loose an ear, or worse. But, isn’t it better to have died having done what you always loved doing? I could die overweight and eating hamburgers while seated at my desk at a corporate job all the while feeling I’m under appreciated, having given or created nothing? Or I could have a different vision.