CAN’T HELP IT

Posted by Jack on September 21st, 2010 filed in About Ann

“The only reason one paints is that one must.”  This aphorism is tacked to the wall near the rear door of Ann’s studio.  It was culled from the vast store of literature created by Somerset Maugham, a prolific British auathor who earned high regard as a writer of fiction and essays in the early decades of the twentieth century.  Now, however, his stories and novels are viewed as quaint romantic curiosities by the post-modernists, though the wisdom and cleverness of some of his bons mots live on.  He was also an enthusiastic and modestly talented amateur painter who obviously understood something of the compulsive behavior that seems inevitably involved in the process of creating art.

A cursory check of the psychiatry dispensed on the internet tells us that this expression of compulsion is not the sort of mental disorder that get the doctors upset.  It is a gentle, though incurable malady, possibly contageous.  Still, it is a compelling quotidian drive in the life of an artist.  Ann commutes the hundred yards to her studio after a spartan breakfast and often spends the daylight hours at her easel sometimes even having lunch out of her mini-refigerator and microwave oven.  Not always seven days a week, but not unusually so.   Ann enjoys fine food as much as anyone in town, but she has been known to pass up an invitation to lunch at a white tablecloth restaurant so she can keep on working on a painting in which she is absorbed.  She has done this all her life.  Perhaps another manifestation of this syndrome is her determined rejection of any of her works that does not meet her standards.  She simply lays a new coat of solid-color paint on the canvas and begins again.

Ann started drawing and painting as a child.  She majored in art at Milliken University and has never worked in any field except art or art education.  The biographies of great painters show the same dedication, drive, compulsion.  Though his family pushed Paul Cezanne into an early career in banking, he was a failure at this and became a painter.  After a time he learned the craft and, well, you know what happened.  He had to paint just as Ann needs to paint.

Malcolm Gladwell in his delightful book, The Outliers, demonstrates that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become truly proficient at such tasks as playing a guitar or  mastering computer software.  Note that it takes the usual worker with a full time job seven years to accumulate ten thousand hours of dedicated work.  Can we doubt that Gladwell’s rule applies to art as well?  If this is so, then it is the inescapable  compulsion to paint that eventually turns the sketch pad doodler into a fine painter.  That keen edge of madness that keeps the artist so closely linked to his canvas and brushes for the required ten thousand hours may be the source of great art, not some genetically-induced skill.  A thoughtful culture should find a special way of rewarding those afflicted by the art craze.  After all, the artists can’t help it.  They must paint.


One Response to “CAN’T HELP IT”

  1. Jennifer Elise Says:

    Jack,
    What a wonderful description of Ann and her passion for painting. She is missed by so many who have called and come by the IMA Museum to find out the date of her exhibition. I photographed her work “Smoke and Mirrors” for the invitation today. It is a wonderfully mysterious painting with the balance of dark and light that leaves me feeling at peace with the mysteries of this world. I look forward to her exhibit and meeting all of the collectors and friends that are sharing her work with us for a month. Jennifer Elise Director, IMA

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