In a place called “Kanuga,” which is in Hendersonville, North Carolina, each year, there is a gathering of artists from virtually ‘everywhere.’ I was honored to be invited as an instructor (one of twelve) there this last week. You can see what happens there in the photo above. Some 260 painters come to learn to paint in water-media and to improve their repertoire of skills.
In the first official hour, we were all introducing ourselves. A very poised lady stood to introduce herself and explained that she liked to paint, liked to spend countless hours at a potter’s wheel and loved making quilts . . . . . . .but “I am not an artist,” she said.
This made me think about how so many of us see ourselves . . . . .and mostly, that is out of some sort of comparison against other aritsts . . .their skills . . . .their abundant sales . . . . . their infamy, or whatever. I am not sure I will ever understand why people compare themselves to others and frequently opt to elect themselves to the lesser of the comparison.
Some people believe there is an “August body of Important People” who bestow the title of “Artist” on us. This can be seen by the questions that come from lay persons, such as “Are you in a gallery?” This really means, “has officialdom qualified you as an artist?”
The Irish have a name for this sort of thinking both from the lay people and the people who pursue excellence in art: MALARKY !
As an instructor, I have the beautiful pleasure of getting to know hundereds of artists. Yes, hundreds. And they all have the same thing in common whether or not they are “accomplished:” They experience very intense emotion about issues and also experience big emotions at sights they see, such as the beauty of reflections on the surface of water, or the god like sculpture of a distorted tree . . . . or the face of a rocky bluff . . . .or the splash of the sea against centuries old rocks. . . . . . . . . . .or the dapled light inside a shadow. You know what I am saying here. Some of us find that we can hardly catch our breath when confronted with such sights.
The fact is that artists are gifted people. We are gifted to experience deeply felt emotion when we see such things . . . . and there is a deeply seated urge to express our feelings. That is precisely what makes an artist. Whether you are highly accomplished from years and years of experience or a stumbling beginner, you and the experienced artist feel exactly the same in your souls. We call such people kindred spirits.
And so it was at Kanuga this last week. A gathering of 260 kindred spirits. In such a gathering an energy emerges from every individual and the group as a whole. There is a sense of One-ness or a bond, if you will. Put twenty such people in a room together and the place expands with excited energy. It is as if we are all experiencing a reunion of people we knew in previous lives. In fact, it IS a reunion. We are all connected to this world in the same way. We have all been given a very special gift.
And if you don’t believe you are gifted . . . .? Just look at those ‘lay persons’ around us who clearly don’t understand us . . . . .some even roll their eyes at the mention that “He or she is an artist.” They live in a world of “reality,” or so they say. They are the ones who lope through the Louvre Museum in an hour to say they have been there, yet cannot relate with the years of frustration and angst that we artists experience to produce even a single work . . . .amateur or otherwise. Us artists live in a plane of life that is beautiful, exciting, frustrating (from not being able to produce perfection), penalizing and rewarding. We get excited about something on which to base a painting, dream about it at night, day dream about it, even dismiss ourselves from being present in the other events of life.
Being an artist is not a title. Some believe it to be foolishness. It is NOT. It is, quite honestly, very serious. It is a way of experiencing life. It is how we connect to the planet and all who inhabit it. We get to see the beauty in things as simple and mundane as a coffee cup or as complex as the rythmic movement of underwater vegetation in a current. We are the ones who not only see, but feel something about what we see and are compelled to express our feelings. We are Artists. Those of us who are, are immensely blessed. I know this because I AM one.