I went to an art exhibition last night [6 August 2011], not my normal activity for a Saturday. I saw quiet courage on display.
Mike Jaroszko and two other local artists had their works on walls and in bins at the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery, NY. Mike’s works were primarily beautiful outdoor scenes, reminiscent of the Hudson River School of art of an earlier era. A second artist’s work featured animals, lovingly and realistically drawn. The third artist was a photographer, again with beautiful work adorning the walls of a third room. What a far cry from the trash I have seen at modern art exhibits, which I will ---- mercifully --- not name.
I met Mike half a year ago. I was looking for someone to paint a portrait of my wife, Tina Su Cooper, from a four-decades-old professional photograph. Mike’s work is on the cover of my first book, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion. It is rendered realistically, as I wished, yet has something more. It seems he incorporated some of what I told him about my heroine
What struck me about the exhibition was how many excellent works were on display, for sale for hundreds of dollars each, typically. Think of the effort the artists had invested without the assurance that the works would ever sell. Is that courage, optimism, foolhardiness, compulsion? Certainly, courage is a part of the mix. Each piece Mike did represented days of painting, perhaps more. The skill needed is rare, indeed, as are the courage and discipline needed to persevere.
One of the photographers works was labeled “3/125,” a limited run. If all 125 are sold, it will be a great financial success. Right now, #3 was up for sale. No doubt one can produce multiple copies of photographs far more easily than paintings, but one had to admire the artistry and the optimism of the artist. Perhaps he had only printed 3 so far, with the other 122 to come as needed.
Stephen King, wildly successful novelist of our times, advises would-be writers to read a lot and write a lot. Write for whom? You can choose an outlet and try to get published there. Lots of research involved, less writing itself. Alternatively, you can write about what interests you, hoping to find a home for it, hoping that at least you will like it. A short piece like this of mine requires little effort, little courage. The saga, the monster novel, requires much more artistic bravery.
I think Michelangelo did the Sistine Chapel on commission, but I doubt that Tolstoy had a contract for War and Piece. Some art is pre-paid, some is done on speculation. If you have been paid already, you might worry about disappointing your sponsor. If you are hoping for a market, your hopes may not be realized. Courage, courage.
Thinking of artistic courage, our thoughts rightly go to those who speak unpleasant truths to others in power. Less dangerous, but still admirable, is the courage to create without the guarantee of reward, beyond one’s own satisfaction. Admirable, too, is the courage to go against trendy artistic conventions with which you disagree. They have my respect, my admiration.