Yesterday was a day of failure. Sure, I know about all the philosophers and thinkers -- Bucky Fuller comes to mind -- who say that there's no such thing as a true failure because you always learn something. So, great, if we redfine failure to mean success in learning "don't do that," there's no failure.

I'm sorry, I'm cranky because I had great success yesterday in learning not to do some things.

Two art things went wrong yesterday. I have these ideas for a couple of projects, but the trouble is they require specialized help. That means I've had some work out at fabricators. Now, these men I'm calling fabricators -- I'm being cagey about what the projects are, exactly, not because I'm afraid anyone will steal my ideas, but because I'm worried my ideas might be intensely stupid and I don't want to look like an idiot, at least not until I've completed something I can show people to prove I'm an idiot -- these men I'm calling fabricators are working stiffs, men who don't have time for art because they're too busy earning a living, running businesses. The ideas I have call for turning some commonplace processes into art, kind of -- I don't mean to sound all arty, but it's hard to avoid without explaining what I'm trying to do, and -- okay. Bottom line: I had to bring my ideas to working men, blue collar guys, and describe them, and ask them to help me with them.

I'll admit here I have a problem with working men. Not because I think I'm better than they are; the exact opposite. I feel so inferior to men who really work for a living, skilled laborers. My father was an auto mechanic for most of his life -- he's retired now -- and so I've seen, over the course of my life, all kinds of mechanics, auto body workers, and body painters, not mention men from other jobs, like janitors, carpenters, plumbers, crane operators, and all of that. That's who I come from, that's the world of my family: Men with big strong callused hands, grease in the creases, who shake your hand when they meet you with a firm, dry, powerful grip.

And it's a world I really don't fit into. I have virtually zero aptitude or inclination for any of it. I never had any interest in cars or woodworking or anything: Too noisy, too dirty. Nose in a book, that's me. I cannot tell you how many times in my life I've stood on one side of an oily counter feeling like a child -- a particularly slow child -- trying to explain what's gone wrong with my car, my sink, my kitchen cabinet, my life.

I'm intimidated by men who work for a living. I feel like a failure, a weak, flabby, tiny, whiny, pampered loser. So for me to go to these men and try to explain this dopey art project I've got in mind, to try to tell them, yes, I know you're breaking your back to put bread on the table for your family, I know you've put your heart and soul into a crushing business to try to eke out some small space for yourself in this hard world, yes, but here, I'm being supported by my wife and I have this goofy thing I want you to help with -- it's hard for me.

I try to wrap myself in art like it'll help: "I'm an artist, I've got this idea..." And maybe it helps a bit. I mean, art's important, right? It's supposed to be. You say you're an artist and people sort of step back a bit, they sort of pause -- "An artist? Really?" -- artists are special people. Magical. Strange.

Not that I believe it, not really. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, yes, I can say, "Look at all this! This is why humans are on this planet!" But not in the face of the real world. Not out there where people are breaking their bodies to survive for just one more brief moment. In the face of that, I've got some balls, asking for help.

This writing thing has gone places I didn't expect. Sorry about that. The point here is, I brought my ideas to these working men, these fabricators, and I asked for their help.

Well, a week went by with this thing I'd made off at one fabricator by the name of Greg. I dropped it off at his shop. A week went by before I stopped in to ask him how it was going. He hadn't gotten to it, he said, what with the hot weather he was sending everyone home early, and they'd get to it this week. Another week went by and I hadn't heard from Greg, so yesterday I called him. I could tell from his voice on the phone it hadn't gone well.

I picked up the thing I'd made and, yes, it hadn't gone well. Back to the drawing board. I need to find a new material to do what I want to do. It's a failure.

And the other fabricator, him I had to send an electronic file to. I sent it last week. I didn't hear from him. Well, maybe he's on vacation, or out, or really busy. After all, he's got a real job. Yesterday I called him to follow up on the e-mail I'd sent. "What address did you send it to?" I sent it to the address on the business card given to me by your boss. "Oh, I don't use that address any more." We haven't heard of forwarding? So I sent him the file to his new address and he told me he'd call me back yesterday afternoon. I have not heard back yet. Failure.

Add those to a few non-art-related failures yesterday and the day just was a loss by every measure.

I pulled out one of my Pogo collections to read. Reading Walt Kelly always makes me want to get out my brush and ink. His work is just so fantastic -- he makes doing a comic strip look so damned easy. Granted that, like most cartoonists, a fair amount of the actual work was done by assistants; still, the visual style is so great, and so perfect, it brings me back to the day I discovered brush and ink. I still remember how amazing it was that I could get such fine lines and such swooping curves, how beautiful every mark I made seemed to be. To this day, give me a sheet of typing paper, a bottle of ink, and a thin brush, and I'm happy. I'm happy just making lines.

Brush and ink doodle So Pogo inspired me to set down for a few minutes and just draw. And maybe I'm wrong to be so entranced by my lines. I think I seduce myself, and that always seems so self-indulgent -- I'm naturally wary of anything that comes so easily, that I love so uncritically. But it does and I do.

Brush and ink doodle I just learned, while writing this, that Walt Kelly died of complications of diabetes. Something else I have to look forward to.


Well, Chris, I actually am fully subscribed with automatic renewal in school of 'everything is a form of sucess". ALthough I will say that sometimes that position can be daunting. But even more daunting than that, in reading your article, is the sense of hitting a wall and the sense of resignation about the less than auspicious start of this project. Of course, if someone other than you described what Chris was doing and where the project was going, my initial reaction would probably's cool... what's the next step? etc.So while I have respect for your right to have certain feelings, etc. I was challenged by what I took as a "leave the back door open as a getaway" when you talked about yourself as an artist, supported by your wife, who am I to ask for this, thing.I really am sensitive on this point and apologize in advance for my rant.So it looks like this. Who am I as an artist? Better find out as fast as possible so you don't have to keep asking that stupid and irrelevant question all your life.Obviously you are an artist, but one also has to take responsibility for that....and to my reckoning...that is the hardest part of the process. Otherwise, artist? big deal...just like a mechanic is a big deal. So one way of looking at it I as artist as a mechanic is a mechanic? Maybe that is a fruitful approach of reckoning one's position and next steps to achieve. Of course maybe not.(Told u I was sensitive on this point).What I like so far in the project is that it is at a stage of pure research, experimentaion and discovery. How can one be disappointed about the discovery when there is soooo much left to discover before....well...end of rant.

Well, Dan, you're more incoherent than usual here. You did warn me (in private correspondence) not to read your rant, but I did anyway.The fact is I do feel I hit a wall. More than some people -- more than most artists, maybe -- I'm sensitive to other people's emotions when working on a project, art or otherwise. If I'm not working with positive people with a lot of enthusiasm, I lose all my momentum. This is why I like working entirely on my own. I have enough trouble finishing things without help.Project Number One hit a wall where it wasn't just a failure of the object to look the way I wanted. It was a lack of support from my "fabricators." They seemed to think I was a bit weird for what I wanted, and then when the results turned out as they did, well, they really acted like I was some kind of wacko. Like, okay, we've humored you now, you can go home and leave us alone.Project Number Two hit a wall of indifference. I understand that my priorities are not other people's priorities, but I'd still like to hear back from someone I expect I'll be paying money to.I had some more ideas for Project Number One, so it's not dead. And Project Number Two is fine -- I finally got through the run-around and will be having the first one fabricated as soon as I can get the money together.You ask: "Who am I as an artist? Better find out as fast as possible so you don't have to keep asking that stupid and irrelevant question all your life." I don't think it's stupid or irrelevant to ask if what I'm doing is really worthwhile. I mean, it's possible to argue that even "great" artists are wastrels, using time and resources better spent on other pursuits. The Sistine Chapel? "The Night Cafe"? "Guernica"? Do we, as a species, really need these? Or do we need a cure for malaria?But let's set that aside as an insane question (as my psychiatrist said to me when I asked what the point of art is, "Are you really asking me that question?"). Let's say for now that Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso were important, did important work for the species. Does that mean any artist's work is worthwhile? How can I tell if I'm wasting my time and effort? Especially if I'm putting a strain on my wife, our family, my ability to parent.One thing so many artist's biographies seem to have in common is that so many artists were willing to put their art above everything. Some part of them had faith that their work was important. Or, alternately, they were so driven -- they needed to work so badly -- that they had no choice.I belong, instead, to that class of artist who is always questioning. What am I doing? Why do I bother? Who am I helping? What's the point?That may be because I'm not a great, or even good, artist. It may have nothing to do with that; maybe there were a lot of great artists who felt the same way. I don't really know.But I don't think it's stupid or irrelevant. I need to feel, or at least temporarily believe, that what I'm doing is worth the sacrifice, worth the effort, worth annoying other people over, whatever. Worth standing up for.

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This page contains a single entry by Chris Rywalt published on August 15, 2006 3:52 PM.

Unnamed Painting, June 2006, Part 3 (finished) was the previous entry in this blog.

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