Painting and (not) teaching

Like most people who paint, I’ve drawn and painted as far back as I can remember. I suppose this isn’t unusual: most kids draw and paint when they’re little. But somewhere along the line most of them put down the pencils and paints. I never did. It seemed that whatever other interests I had, drawing worked its way into them somehow.

Part of it has to do with how I understand things: I don’t really feel I fully understand something until I can visualize it. But partly it was likely just the outcome of a virtuous cycle: I got positive feedback on my drawings, which made me want to draw more, which made me better at it, which garnered more positive feedback, and so on.

But even then the transition from being a kid who liked to draw to an adult more seriously engaged with painting wasn’t a given. I think it was a combination of factors: people I knew, books I read, lingering counter-culturalisms still hanging in the air when I was growing up.

For starters, somewhere in my teens I became aware that a career as a painter, or at least as someone who taught painting, was a possibility. I’d known, vaguely, that at some unspecified time in the past there had been painters, because we had a couple of coffee table art books kicking around the house when I was growing up. But if I thought about it at all, I probably assumed that being a painter was one of those careers that wasn’t available anymore, like being an elevator operator.

Around the same time I became aware that there were people who taught painting at university (the University of Alberta, in this case) because a friend of mine was studying there, and the father of one of the kids at my school taught there. So I began to think that might be a direction I could pursue.

Finally, I think my early ambitions were also shaped by a few watered down counter-cultural memes that were still hanging in the air back then — you know, the ones about not wanting to spend your life in a grey flannel suit making widgets for The Man. My feelings have changed a bit over the years (what’s wrong with grey flannel? Looks better than tie-dye), but at the time I took those ideas seriously. Sometime also during my high school years I read Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. I remember his portrait of Robert and Gennie DeWeese, artists in Bozeman, Montana, made a real impression on me. I thought it would be pretty cool to be like that, living a kind of artsy, bohemian existence out in the boonies somewhere. But not too bohemian, because you’d still be getting a regular paycheck, teaching art at a regional college or university.

So that’s what’s prompted me to pursue art studies after high school. What had started out as a love of painting and drawing became more about how I was going to make a living. But eventually, many years and a couple of degrees later, it swung back the other way. How that happened is probably the subject for another time, but in retrospect I have to say that for me it was the best possible outcome. Solving the Painting Problem (What should I paint? How should I paint it? Should I even make paintings at all?) is hard enough on its own. Solving the Painting Problem and the Money Problem together is near impossible, and I have boundless respect for the painters who have managed it successfully.

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