I took some vacation last month and as usual took a book along to read during the more relaxing time. This time I had Mitch Albom’s latest book with me, “the next person you meet in heaven” (his titles are always in lower case). It’s about the fifth book of his that I’ve read. They are small books, not heavy reading, but somehow, he manages to weave some profound thought and deep insight into his stories.
Anyway, the main character of the book is a young woman whose life we get to see as she is growing up and as an adult, in addition to her experience after she dies. There was a lot of her childhood that I could relate to, especially growing up with the idea that I had made a lot of mistakes. This was reinforced by the environment she and I both grew up in and so was a state-of-mind that seemed natural to me in adulthood.
But she learns in this story that, from G-d’s perspective at least, there really are no mistakes. And she gets to see how all these different choices were used to direct her life in the way it was intended to go all along. I’m starting to see much the same thing in my own life and in my art.
Since about 2005 the art has been an upward climb. I haven’t been able to secure a gallery since then, even though I did really well when I was showing in them, and making it into a living online is a huge amount of work, too much of it unrelated to actually painting. Add to that the full-time job that pays the bills while doing the art-dance and you get the picture.
But these days when I paint, I have the sense that I am exactly where I need to be and the art is going in the direction that it is supposed to. I’m done stressing and thinking I need to paint more like someone else, or if only I could do this or that I’d be more successful at it. Truly the painting is more of a joy than it’s ever been and if I thought there were any mistakes along the way, it just isn’t true. If I see some of these things as lessons then they aren’t mistakes at all. I am where I am because it’s where I’m supposed to be.
And the same goes for the actual process of art making. Recently I started a new series called “Looking Up,” a series of paintings of skies. I’ve just started the second one. The first sketch was a disaster. I tore it up and I’m using the back side of the paper now to test colour shades. Now though, I look at it as a lesson in what I don’t want to do. So, it helped in that I knew what to leave out and had a better sense of what I did want to do. Not a mistake at all.
Funny that of all the mediums out there, I chose watercolour. The medium artists complain most about being unable to control or fix the mistakes. But it’s what I love most about it. Even though my watercolours are a lot more controlled than some other artists, it has far more whimsy in it than I ever found in oils or acrylics. It’s my muse. And I’ll stay there in my own way.
The art teaches lessons about life, and life about art. Mistakes are only mistakes if we don’t learn from them. And we tend to repeat them when we decide not to learn. The same is true in my art. If I fight the medium and don’t let it, to a certain degree, do what it is supposed to do, I end up with a mess. But I realize I am painting exactly as I should be. Somehow it comes together on the paper, as long as I stay open to its lessons.
There’s nothing to worry about after all… there are no mistakes.