“True,” came the reply. “Because he never had the opportunity to lead an army.”
And what assurance have we that Grant was even the second best general?
Jones and Grant are only two of many stars who owe some of their good fortune to circumstances unrelated to their artistic efforts.
Vincent Van Gogh, without the support of his brother Theo, could never have continued painting and developing beyond his own crude beginnings; and without the good business connections of Theo’s widow’s art dealership he would never have become worshipped worldwide after his death. I wonder how many thousands of struggling 19th century European artists had the drive and ability of young Vincent, but never made it out of invisible mediocrity.
As for me, I was able to work at my art determinedly but intermittently, while making increasing concessions to financial reality. Circumstance and lack of support kept me out of serious painting for fifty years. Retirement has broken that impasse, but I am no longer at the cobbler stage at which a lucky break would do me any good. I know there are tens of thousands like me.
First, when I see a brand new novice painter expecting immediate income, I feel sad. Her painting needs a decade or more of work, and without support and mentorship her chances are even skimpier.
Second, I am annoyed when a rich guy says that a poor guy is having money trouble because he made bad choices and didn’t work hard enough. There are millions of people working very hard but who have no pathway to affluence, and it is an outrageous insult to them to suggest that they are to blame for their own insufficiency. Many a successful actor, writer or painter—or business executive—takes all the credit for his position and cannot acknowledge any of the contributions that helped put him there. Yes it takes hard work and persistence, but that is still no guarantee of turning a profit—or breaking even.
There are always exceptions. There have been artists who struck pay dirt immediately, without the requisite years of sticking to it and working hard. Their experience is rare. To lead brand new painters to believe that they can have the same success if they just follow the same formula is heartless.
Judging from the magazines addressed to striving artists, from the chains of art supply retailers, and the plethora of workshops offered, there are thousands upon thousands of American artists who take their artwork seriously, have reached a level of respectable competence, and hope that with just a little bit more work or knowledge or recognition they will achieve solvency. But the association of art and income is not promised. (The marketing of art supplies and income is a much better bet.)
To those artists I want to say it is time to paint, just paint. I love spending time with you, painting next to you, discussing art and appreciating each other’s work. Let’s be brave and not worry about sales or prizes because those have nothing to do with what is on our easels. Our expectations are modest and our prices are modest. What I hope for is just enough validation to feel visible, and to distribute enough of my paintings to the world so that I can make my way through my studio.
Eventually your knowledge and taste will evolve and you may find that your painting no longer satisfies you. Not a problem. Replace it with a more advanced (by your standards) work and give the old one to a friend. (You give plenty of other old things away, don't you?) Explain to the friend what you liked about that painting and point out your favorite passages.
We all need the population of aesthetic connoisseurs to increase!