by Jackson Arn
The best thing about a painting is that no two people ever paint the same one. They could be sitting in the same garden, staring at the same tree in the same light, poking the same brush in the same pigments, but in the end none of that matters. The two hypothetical tree-paintings are going to turn out different, because the two hypothetical painters are different also.
Because the paintings are different, it stands to reason that one is likely to look better than the other. Not certain, but likely. Granted, if the two painters are five-year-olds lacking fine motor control and knowledge of linear perspective, their trees are bound to be equally bad. And granted, if the two are Leonardo and Picasso, their trees will be equally good—different in style, of course, but alike in goodness. Art is subjective, but like everything else subjectivity has its limits. Most of the time, one person is better at painting.
The person who paints the better tree is not necessarily the more careful painter. One person could sit in the garden all afternoon working on a leaf, wait 20 hours for the planet to roll back around, work on leaf the second, and so on for months until the painting is complete—and completely awful. The other person could show up hungover and underslept, sit for fifteen minutes, stand, and leave behind a better work of art. It’s probably worse the other way around. One person could show up at the crack of dawn, paint with brisk, efficient brushstrokes, and be off in time to fix their kids breakfast, such is their dedication to the twin deities of Art and Family. The second person could arrive weeks later, work for months while their children starve, and paint the better painting, and the only thing the world would care about is that the painting is better. All the advantages person two had, all the time person one was forced to sacrifice—nobody cares. All they care about is who painted the better tree.
Yes, I’m right—it’s much worse that way. And not just because of the starving children.
I am not a painter, but I probably could have been. Until very recently, I was a solar engineer. Science always came easy. I never loved it, never got so much as a squirt of dopamine from biology homework or an A plus on a physics exam. It’s just that I was incapable of not getting A pluses in science classes. That was my curse. My unrequested gift.
I can’t remember much about the things I painted back then, but I remember the joy they brought me. Nothing, not even the events of last year, can take that away. All careers in the arts begin with joy. It’s the acorn from which the oak of greatness grows. Inspiration is also needed, and perspiration, and dedication, and luck. But joy is the acorn. Read more »