..... Her analysis was so deliberate. The idea that stunned me the most was the one about taking up space. I'd made a religion of writing in cafes- not having my own studio, making it egalitarian, nothing special, everyone can do it. I lugged my work from restaurant to library to coffee shop. Was I afraid of occupying my own dimensions, of actually pushing out walls for myself?
.... I was impressed that Barbara had built her own big studio, that she wasn't trying to paint in her kitchen between the dishwasher and cutting board or in the back room she used as guest quarters. [Note 3]
"You know what else about that list?" Barbara went on. "Painting is technical. There's all kinds of things to learn that aren't taught in public school. Everyone, at least in this country, has the opportunity to learn to read and write. The technical skills for a writer are built in from first grade." [Note 4]
"Well, where'd you learn the technical stuff for painting?"
"I studied art at a university and although I was recognized for my talent, there was an unspoken snag: I was female and was 'probably just going to get married.'" [Note 5]
When this passage and my own crossed, I took a deep breath. I realized why my questions felt so big. How could I fit painting into my life as a full-time mother? What would the kids be doing while I painted? Where would I set up my easel? What easel? What would I do about the fumes? What.... what.... was I going to paint? Could ....I.... even ....paint?
My questions were all about taking up more space in, particularly space within my family, than I'd previously claimed. This "space" included not only square footage in our house, but time and proximity to my children. As with most new adventures, there was an element of fear in this change, but with the added wondering of "to be a 'good painter' will I become a 'bad mother'?"
Of I stared hard at that phrase, the possibility of it: "to be a good painter", looking at all the assumptions it prompted: would I have become an art teacher/gotten married in the first place if I really had artistic talent/what it takes to be a real artist?; what about the skills I lacked and all the goof-ups and lousy painting I was going to have to suffer through, make public before hitting one or two that were right?; was I willing to let my mistakes and learning also take up space in my life?
Here I am, with a solid year of doing this work under my belt. Most of the questions linger, answers forming over a lifetime, but there are some preliminary results: painting fits in!
There are costs for us as a family, for our home, some great, some small. There's not enough space; I've gotten paint places it shouldn't be (like on this computer); I swear at the lack of lighting/fresh air/distance a lot in my "studio spaces". There's never enough time, but what needs to be done can be balanced through a day/week/season by paying out here, saving there, splurging now, pinching then. This looks like me not progressing on pieces because the kids are sick or on vacation, or me not scrubbing a dirty toilet or not having a fresh piece of fruit for our lunches because I didn't make it to the grocery store, just for a few more moments to paint. So there is a cost to everyone in the family. But the painting is just one currency. I realize that if it wasn't with panels and oils, then I would be paying some other way for life.
Excerpt from Natalie Goldberg, Natalie. "Writer Meets Painter." Living Color: Painting, Writing, and the Bones of Seeing. New York: Abrams, 2014. 113-115. Print
Note 3: I was trying to paint in the garage, between the water heaters and the cat litter box.
Note 4: I was lucky enough to start gaining technical skills in the 13th grade.
Note 5: This was certainly the culture at my undergraduate school. There was an understanding that some of my peers were there to earn their MRS degrees. Equally clear to everyone there, I wasn't obtaining that one any time soon. And by the time I did, I had plenty of other excuses for why my talent would never be enough reason for me to really make art as a profession.