The secret

What is the secret of being a brilliant painter, and what’s the easiest way to annoy such a person?

One of the great benefits of running a storage facility is that one gets to meet so many different people.

Of course, I suspect this is true in terms of lots of different lines of business, but over the years I really have felt this is a great bonus in my line of work.

For example, one of my clients is an artist.  As such he draws hundreds of sketches as preliminaries for the art that he finally exhibits in galleries, and, as he explained to me, for many years he just kept them in his studio attached to his house.

That approach was disrupted when he had burglars. They weren’t after his creative works, it seems, but they did turn everything upside down and knocked over various items, destroying a valuable collection of original work.  Not his best works, of course, which were in galleries or had been sold, but still important elements in the development of these works.

As a result he decided to store his sketches, bringing in a new collection of items every few months and adding them to the store.

I have been watching this continue for some time, but it was only recently that I was able to talk to him about his life as an artist. Indeed I had feared that my questions would be horribly naive and might upset my customer through being the sort of thing that everyone asks all the time, but in fact he was most happy to answer me.

“The point,” he said, “is not that people ask how I work, but rather they tell me that they have done some painting or drawing.  Here am I earning my living as an artist and they imply that they could do it, but haven’t really bothered.  As if I were to tell the garage mechanic that I have used a spanner.

“But they are not the worst. The worst ones are the people who tell me their aunt or their grandmother or someone has done a few paintings, and would I like to see?  It drives me mad.  When I go to see someone else’s pictures I go to the Royal Academy exhibition in the summer.  I don’t go and look at the work of a person’s grandmother.”

I sat quietly for a moment and allowed my customer to calm down.  I was interested – but first and foremost he is my customer, and I didn’t want to say the wrong thing which might make him remove his work from my facility.

But then, as is my wont, I pushed on. “I’ve often wondered,” I said, “how an artist like you works.  I mean, how do ideas come?  How do you decide what to paint and what treatment to give it.  I guess above all, my real fascination is what you do each day.  Do you get up at 7.30, have breakfast and settle down to a day’s painting?  Or do you wait for inspiration?”

He looked at me with a quizzical half smile on his face, and I wondered if despite my efforts I had gone too far with my questioning, but eventually he said, “You want to know what the life of an artist is like?”

I said that, yes, by and large that was the question I was stumbling towards.

“Artists,” he told me, “are people who wear funny hats and go to unusual places.”

I looked at him bemused, but then a broad smile broke across this face.  “It really is true – the choice of headgear is not obligatory although most people working in the creative arts do tend to have their own style of clothing.  But going to funny places helps.  And really it is a symbol – we are interested in things beyond the everyday.  Even if we paint the everyday we paint it in a different way with a different vision using different lenses.

“What most artists do – and this applies to poets, painters, writers, actors, composers… what we do is keep our eyes and ears open while everyone else stops seeing the world.  Most people don’t look, in order to get through each day without being worn down by the humdrum nature of it all.  What artists do is look at everything – even pieces of dirt.

“And to do this we go to unusual places, which means above everything else, we go somewhere and then admit much of the time that we are totally and utterly lost.  Some artists then struggle against the situation, but most of us (those who tend not to chop off bits of our anatomy or drink ourselves to death) accept being lost, and then explore the strange country we are lost in.

“I can go for a walk across the fields near my house, where I have been a thousand times before, and still be lost because I see something I have never seen before.

“I have a musician friend who can play the same few bars of music over and over and over.  It drives everyone else in the house round the bend, but I know he is lost in that sound, and eventually out of it will come something new.”

“And is that the key to becoming an artist?” I asked as he paused for breath.

“That and flying in the face of expectation, because if your art gives people what they expect, then it is no longer art.”

And with that he thanked me for the coffee and bid me good day, leaving me perhaps a little wiser, and certainly a lot more bemused.

Admiral Document Storage
Bloxwich Lane
Tel: 0800 810 1125