“’No one stops being an artist,’ she said to us. And I argued with her that a painter who stops painting is no longer a painter. It is the act of painting that matters.” --The Swan Thieves
My grandfather was an artist. Art was a hobby for him, although he once had an opportunity to make it his profession, drawing posters for movie houses in Hollywood. My family has a few of these sketches and they are vibrant and wonderful. But to take that job would have meant moving his family from New York to California, and facing an uncertain future in the era following the Great Depression. So he ran a local business selling wine and gourmet foods and sketched in his spare time.
I have a number of his pictures hanging on our walls, mostly charcoal sketches or pastels. He drew mostly still-life, and my collection includes a couple of wine bottles, an olive oil can, and some ivy in a glass. Probably the best drawing I have, from a critical perspective, is a wonderful sketch of a package wrapped in paper and tied with string. But one of my favorites is a very simple sketch, just an outline, of a man. Maybe because of its unfinished nature, I can imagine my grandfather sitting at his easel in a class, the nude model in the center, both men hunched in their respective poses.
It is easy to look at art on a wall, appreciate its colors and lines, or notice its overall beauty. But art seen in a museum, even pieces done by great masters, is impersonal. I’m not saying art can’t speak to you, and a piece may tell a vivid story, but it isn’t necessarily your story. When I see my grandfather’s art on my walls, it is part of my history, each line drawn by a man who I can still picture sitting in our backyard reading the newspaper, sunglasses on, cigar in hand.
This post was inspired by The Swan Thieves: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova. I was given a copy by the publisher as part of the From Left To Write book club. I was not otherwise compensated for this post.