Or Kurt Vonnegut: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be”.
Or the art crazy old man himself: “I have been in love with painting ever since I became conscious of it at the age of six. I drew some pictures I thought fairly good when I was fifty, but really nothing I did before the age of seventy was of any value at all. At seventy-three I have at last caught every aspect of nature–birds, fish, animals, insects, trees, grasses, all. When I am eighty I shall have developed still further and I will really master the secrets of art at ninety. When I reach a hundred my work will be truly sublime and my final goal will be attained around the age of one hundred and ten, when every line and dot I draw will be imbued with life.”—Hokusai Katsushika
Sunday in the library I checked out a photo book about Picasso. Pictures taken of him at leisure and work in 1956. A mess of canvases and sculptures in every room, painting on the walls, dripped paint on the floor. His mansion had twenty foot ceilings and huge doors at the end of one studio opening out onto a balcony of palm trees. “La Californie” was the name of his hermitage in Southern France.
There is a brief passage in the book referencing his time in Montmartre, when he lived in poverty, painting. Somehow still able to acquire materials without the financial support of credit cards and/or a sugar mama. I think poverty in 1905 was a world of difference from what we call it today. He must have made modern starving artists look like rich dandys sacrificing a week of television and a bowl of chocolates for art. Or, God forbid, cell phone service! The photos of him as a rich millionaire painting in a mansion juxtaposed with my imagination of a poor Parisian painter holed up in some cold January flat over a hundred years ago, instruct and educate like nobody’s business. His wealthy genius in 1956 appears unchanged over 50 years time. He looks just as poor to me, but rich in determination and singleness of purpose. He eats, sleeps, voids excrement, laughs and paints. There is no stopping him. The art crazy old man.
I mention Picasso’s sameness to my wife this morning over coffee. I asked her how differently would we live if suddenly Jeff Koons got cast inside one of his poodles, and Ron Throop went viral throughout the acquisition dreams of bored billionaires. “Our coffee would get better. Other than that,” she admitted, “nothing”.
Last month I helped hang a show at our local art association. One of the helpers, a member my age, asked me what I do for a living. “Paint,” I said. “I am a painter”. It was more difficult for me to get that truism past my lips than if I told him I was an untouchable scouring latrines with my socks.
Picasso’s Picasso. Throop is Throop. We have nothing in common, besides the old man on the rock in my painting. My path for the rest of this life is to pretend like Picasso. It won’t hurt anybody. It won’t even help. Maybe, if I just work harder and dream longer, Rose will taste a better sip of coffee with her next husband.