My family and I recently moved to San Antonio. I haven’t found a job yet so I’ve had a lot of time to drift around the city, visiting various coffee shops, parks, and tourist attractions. These are photos/drawings of two of the historic missions south of the city. The top photo is of Mission Concepcion a few miles south of the Alamo, and the bottom is Mission San Juan, further towards the outskirts of the city, but still close to the San Antonio River.
Personally, I don’t think paintings are very interesting as ideas.
Ideas are not interesting in and of themselves.
In many ways the culture of simplifying art into language (ideas) is a platform for engaging large groups.
Working with art through language is a way of separating oneself from the action via the interface.
Ideas are an interface, a glossy model. They are unreal. They disconnect us from mystery and exploration, from life.
Working from ideas presents a false freedom. It is an inherently limited structure.
I want to be lost, to get lost.
Ten years ago this month, I started working in the skilled trades. My older brother’s best friend from childhood had been working as a trim carpenter in between touring with his band, and was just starting to get into cabinets. I was his first real hire. I couldn’t read a tape measure. Together we set out to learn the ins and outs of building cabinetry the hard way, by trial and error. All the tooling we used in the beginning could be bought at a hardware store, except for the cabinet saw, a Jet, which was and is a nice saw. We worked out of a bare cinder block addition off a city alley. The concrete floor was decent. The bathroom barely worked. We sprayed lacquer out in the open at the end of the day, clouds of overspray hanging in the air as we locked up.
Our first big job was a distressed raised panel kitchen. Face frames. Half overlay. There might have been glaze involved. I still don’t know cabinet sales lingo. Maybe the style was country traditional? French provincial? Romantic rustic? All in hickory. I ran every piece of rock hard hickory through a Delta lunch box planer, and then across a table router, profiling the door stock and raised panels, the wood shattering occasionally as the tiny router bit chattered and wailed through each pass.
Since then I’ve spent seven of the last ten years in five different cabinet shops. One of those shops I can barely call a shop. It was a storage space. In a basement. I had to tail the owner like a detective to the bank to get a check.
I worked for a year in a bronze foundry, plaques, signs, medals. Around a year on renovations. I’m coming up now on my first year as a welder. It’s hard to say what I’ve gained in that time.
My first boss, the one who had been a trim carpenter and bassist in metal bands, has become very successful. Over fifteen employees, owns the 7,000 square foot building they work out of. Owns I can only imagine well over a half million in tooling. Vans. Trucks. Fork lifts. He hasn’t worked on the floor in some years. He dresses well. Doesn’t drive a truck anymore. He’s a good guy. He’s done well.
In my own case, I’ve amassed very little wealth. My tools are hand tools. My truck is old. My boots are cheap. I’ve gained a great deal of skill and experience, but as the saying goes, all I’ve got to show is the muscle in my arm. I’ve shifted from shop to shop, from trade to trade, in an unplanned pursuit of I’m not sure what, hoping along the way that something or somewhere would click. If anything has clicked, it is a click only I can hear. Years later. A memory.
Most of what I’ve gained in terms of ability is difficult to define. There are simple skills. Hand work. Where to hold. Not blowing out. Calculator math. And there are indefinable skills. How to estimate time so that I’ll complete a step right before clean up time. Where to set up. How an architect or designer might be playing me. How I might be playing myself. Knowing more than I know.
As the years go on and I get better at building, it’s easier to forgive myself mistakes. Even rookie mistakes. As my confidence grows, I’m less rashly angry with myself for slipping up. Everyone does it. Only fools throw it. But the game of building becomes more mysterious, a giant cloud of semi-understanding. A personal internet where I can look things up that I don’t know.
It is a very different experience than what I assumed when I started. Maybe I thought that the majority of learning would be skill based. But almost all of the game is mental. Almost all of it is humility. Understanding why something works, and why something else does not work. Understanding without knowing.
Most of the lessons I’ve learned were ones I taught myself. Any guy that actually knows something probably doesn’t know how to tell you. Of course this sort of thing isn’t quantifiable. When the bank looks at my assets, they aren’t interested in whether I know what I don’t know, or if I can read the future before I start a project. When I look at my assets, what do I think?
How often do we chose our path. Once or daily.
I met a painter today in an unlikely situation. When I told the painter that I was also a painter he was visibly stirred. We were in a situation where it would come as a surprise to meet another painter. He was caught off guard.
Why is it when artists meet each other, they aren’t excited to run into one another? What would be the downside to meeting another artist. Competition? I’m not sure. I am personally excited when I meet other artists, especially at my age when art has fallen away for most all together. This painter told me that he hasn’t painted since his kid was born over three years ago. A common story.
I’ve personally kept up with art off and on as a hobby since my son was born, not with any great consistency, but I’ve kept it up none the less. It is a radical effort to keep making art with no real career in the arts after one has children. Everything else is pressing, money, jobs, homes, cars, relationships. Art is not pressing. It is almost unthinkably unpressing.
I also play soccer. When I randomly meet another person that still plays soccer, we’re stoked to meet each other. Like hell yeah. Where do you play? How often? Have you had injuries? Do you watch or just play? We should hang out some time and play.
Why doesn’t art work the same way? Why should older artists not be immediate friends the way that people who have other hobbies are. Bowling. Skateboarding. Reading. Bicycling. Cooking. Drinking. Any other hobby at all in common would call for immediate kinship, but art does not.