Thursday, April 12, 2012

In the Marketplace

Crying Woolf

Today Chris Quidley came by the studio to pick up paintings for the Boston gallery and, eventually, for this spring and summer on Nantucket. It was fun to seem him again and to have a good group of paintings going off to represent me.

After he left, while I was musing about the hand-off, and about what fate awaited these canvases on which I'd worked so hard, I remembered a quote from Clive Bell's biography of Virginia Woolf. When asked how she felt about sending a book off to her publisher, she replied that it was like pushing one's child out into the traffic---if it be hurt, the hurt was done also to one's self.

No matter that I have been an exhibiting artist for more than thirty years, I still experience anxiety about my "children" going out into the big world. I want them to have a friendly, appreciative reception. And I want those who view them to really engage with them. This, of course, is something over which I can have no control. They will compete for attention in a world of moving images and continual sound. They are but a small, still center in a vortex of sensation. But for real picture lovers they can be a magnet. They can offer a haven, even if for only a few moments, from all the sensory hullabaloo.

Very early in my career, I sold a painting to a prestigious law firm in New York. It was large painting of a small stream, deep in the country, and it found itself installed in a comfortable seating area within the office, many floors above a Manhattan street. When I subsequently saw one of the firm's partners, I enquired how the painting was being received. He told me that often, when he was working on a particular legal problem, he'd migrate out to the small area where the painting was hung. He said he would just sit down and "go fishing for a while." Thus re-charged, he would often be able to untie the legal knot that had been perplexing him.

Of course, paintings---and art in general---can have many functions: they may console, or amuse, confront or condemn, and many other things. But whatever the mission of each work may be, it intends to engage the viewer totally, to be, even for just an instant, the alpha and omega of experience.

That's a lot of responsibility to put on a few square feet of Belgian linen as it goes out to meet the world. It's not surprising that the artist who made it is apprehensive on its behalf. But we artists can't be there to coax each passerby to look a moment longer, to engage with the thoughts below the surface, those beyond technique which we sought to convey. We continually hope for a response that recognizes that a painting is often about a lot more than what it's a picture of.

So make a drink, settle into a comfortable chair, and lose yourself and your thoughts in a painting you really love. You'll find, even if you've never dug a worm, that this kind of fishing is open to all.

And I can stop worrying about the kids.

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