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Work, Work, Work til Your Ass Falls Off

John W. Pinkerton


I’ve tried to explain this before, but I seem not to be able to get it through people’s thick heads that I have no art talent.  This is your last chance to understand, and that’s final.

Yeah, I know occasionally some of my art is pretty good.  The pretty good art is what is causing the confusion.  I reiterate, the good art is not born of talent.  “Talent” implies the innate ability to produce images which are appealing.

I want credit for all the hard work I do to produce my “pretty good” art.  Look, I think of my art as being produced by a sledge hammer and duct tape.  I produce my paintings by slamming it over and over and over and patching it with duct tape until it finally gives up a decent image.

My dexterity with a brush is pretty much that of a fourth grader.  My understanding of color is that of a canine.

Well, in spite of all this, my work sells; I am more of a born-again capitalist than an artist. 

Let’s look at what does make my “pretty good” art possible. First of all, I appreciate art.  I have a good eye for recognizing what is good and what ain’t.  From time to time, I review art books which include “great” artists and judge them with the wisdom of Solomon as good or bad.  A lot of the “greats” ain’t so great…in my humble opinion.

I’m objective about my own art.  I know when it’s good, average, or just plain old bad.  Not having an ego related to art is a big help.

I have always had a pretty good work ethic.  I’m willing to paint, paint, and paint until, as the father of a friend of mine once said, “…your ass falls off.”  If you work at it hard enough, you just might stumble across something which is good.

One of my positive qualities is that I have an uncanny ability to evaluate people---to know what they like and don’t like; therefore I tend to paint for them.  Some times I can’t resist painting for myself and create paintings that will be mine forever…bless their hearts.

Money is not a driving force in my life; therefore, I place very little monetary value on my paintings.  I get a lot of satisfaction from an obviously poor person putting down their nickels and dimes for one of my efforts---just like any other capitalist.

Let me give you a little of my history.  When I was about six, my mother took me to one art class at which the art “teacher” painted a picture and gave me credit for it.  I suddenly found myself being haled as a talented young fellow.  I knew better.

However, I did acquire a taste for the talented, in this case the teacher, and for chutzpah.

Mother found a set of art encyclopedias in a magazine which she thought her “talented” son would benefit from.  I liked them, all three, A through C.  I would really have liked to have had a full set.  Being young, I simply accepted the truncated set and moved on.  I still have the abbreviated set in my studio.  Truncated or not, they did stimulate my interest in art.

I don’t remember any art in school, but I did occasionally paint pictures on paper or draw weird portraits…who didn’t?  I still dabbled with art in high school, but by that time I was coming to the full realization that I was not talented.  Through the years I usually painted one painting each year just to check to see if talent had shown up.  No such luck.

Then I made a friend who was talented.  His work was marvelous, exciting, unique.  Crap, it was over for me in the art world, and he went on to law school and basically didn’t use his art talent.  Go figure.

When I was at LSU, I saw a work by Hopper which impressed me and scared me a little.  Also I saw an exhibit by a fellow whose name I don’t remember; but I do remember thinking that the talented doing that kind of work was worth a lifetime of effort.

Occasionally I’d go by the art department on the LSU campus and watch the students working.  They didn’t look as though they were having any fun.  I knew for sure I didn’t belong there.

When I went off to the army and Europe, I found that I still had an interest in art.  I visited the Louve in Paris and the Tate in London.  The Louvre was okay, but the Tate was the one that really impressed me. The art was so accessible, so close—Manet, Monet, Modigliani, you get it.  I was impressed.

I then spent twenty-five years as a high school English teacher followed by ten years as the school district’s librarian.  For the first 25 years, I left the classroom exhausted.  For the next ten, I had energy left over at the end of the day, and I had time to read.  I read every art book I could get my hands on, particularly art biographies, and I was in charge of ordering books, so I ordered a lot of art books…a little piece of self-indulgence.

As I approached retirement, I realized that I was a little short on something to occupy my years in retirement.

After all those years of pining for talent in the world of art, I determined to see how adequate I could become in the art of painting.  It never for one moment occurred to me to try to sell any of my efforts.

I knew that without talent, it wasn’t going to be easy to become adequate.  At first I used oil paint.  It didn’t fit my personality.  It’s too slow.  I turned to acrylics.  We got along just fine.

Being intellectually lazy, I quit trying to think of new subjects to paint; I chose cats to help me learn to paint.  About 250 cat paintings later, I thought I was ready to move on to people.  During these years, I gave away a bunch of paintings just to get them out of the house; they were really stacking up.

Anyway, my friends Cheryl Wooten and Cathy Schuster came along and gave me  three shows at their gallery.  That was fun and people seemed to like my work.

“Work” is the key word here, not talent.

So, here’s the point.  Even if you’re not naturally talented as an artist, use what you’re good at to produce works of art, and  work, work, work until your ass falls off.