“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “The Art Form” Chapter 82
By Bruce Williams
I was recently talking to a customer I’ve known for years—one of those guys where the lines are somewhat blurred between friendship and business, where a bawdy joke or a political slant might just inadvertently slip out and take a lap around the carpet. He was talking off-handedly about his burgeoning pet portraitures, which of course piqued my ever-gnawing curiosity. Having been commissioned by several clients to paint their beloved, furry family members, he had unconsciously developed a side-hustle in his post-Microsoft, early-retirement days by brush-stroking these endearingly-dabbed, frameable canvases. As I scrolled through the pictures of his work on his phone (some of them quite good) and marveled at this hidden talent of his, absorbing the kid-like glow on his face as it gently warmed the side of my face as this 60-year-old gushed about his now hobby-turned-thing.
Similarly, my aunt, an art teacher and painter, who is losing large chunks of her memory while oftentimes dispensing strangely lucid bits of familial history, randomly offered up my deceased grandparents’ proficiency at the piano; my grandmother’s talents elegantly acquired through classical training and my grandfather’s learn-by-ear ragtime key pounding were never really in my forebrain even though I remember the Steinway sitting ominously in their living room, but those two distinct images help to create a slightly different picture of both because it adds to their personalities by blanketing an art onto their previous layers.
My wife bakes cakes—beautiful, colorful creations for friends’ and family’s events that are Instagramable and front-window-bakery worthy. She’s received a few commissions over the years, but didn’t like turning it into a business because it took some of the joy and creativity out of the expression of the art form. “Just for fun is better,” she’d say. My own writing in many ways is a creative outlet—I get paid a nominal fee, but am given artistic license to do as I please—which topped other writing ventures that I was loosely offered beforehand (a memoir, speechwriting, technical copy) that would’ve essentially been work. Yes, there’s a deadline involved here most weeks, but it’s not life-or-death, and the small audience that gobbles up my cheap prose is akin to an affable campfire huddle.
I have a friend that invents board games (Heidi Hanson) and a friend who is a professional drummer (Barrett Martin). My mom made pottery—we even owned a kiln in our garage when I was a kid at one point. My sister Linda plays the harp of all things. I’m fascinated by train graffiti—not the desperate tagging variety, but the involved, strikingly brilliant versions produced by those clandestine masters stealthily in the wee hours, trackside. What is the throughline here you wonder? Art. Expressionism in a form other than speech. My urging you to find a style of one. What better outlet for these Covid-weary times than finding your muse and letting her flow? I tell you, I think it’s crucial to your sanity—to be more than just a salesman or an analyst. To be a little vulnerable even, because any form of art that’s humbly offered opens you up to scrutiny and criticism. It’s inevitable and it’s human nature to poo-poo and diminish. And it’s okay, because art makes people think—if only to declare to themselves that they actually hate it.
So try something. Doodle, paint, sculpt. Do metalwork. Create hedge art. Attempt short-film making (like our Lou). There was a 9-year old daughter of a customer recently writing a story while she quietly waited for her folks to buy a suit that I was so compelled by that I wanted to just stop and ask her to tell me all about it and offer to run her story in my space as encouragement, but didn’t quite know how to phrase that whole proposition in the context of the situation I was in. I still wish I knew what it was about. Art in all its endless forms adds beauty to our lives, and we all could use more fearless beauty and less whataboutism. Now go, create. You just might surprise yourself.