“And how do people perform that ceremony of parting, Jane?” Mr. Rochester asks Jayne in Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. Saying a permanent goodbye, like other major life changes, is a dynamic renewal to some and anathema to others.
Creative people are good at adapting to change and optimists are also good with transitions. And so, as a creative optimist, I am embracing the change that this last column in the Opus Visual Arts Newsletter brings.
This is column number three hundred in Issue #300. More than twenty-eight years of writing this column has been a highlight of my life, as has been receiving the one thousand-plus inspiring emails and letters you have sent me. (The two pieces of hate mail I could have done without, though.) Writing to you each month has been a remarkable experience that cumulated in the writing of two books and an offer of a teaching position at Emily Carr University of Art + Design.
I have some very vivid memories as a result of past columns that I will never forget:
- Writing about a Shell Oil supply boat touring in the Arctic that had a free stateroom for an artist and later hearing from an artist who that took that life-changing trip.
- Getting almost two hundred letters and calls when I wrote about finding my birth mother at age forty-five and her turning out to be a revered and accomplished artist.
- Introducing the Gorilla Girls to Vancouver artists on two occasions by bringing them to speak and perform at the Stanley Theatre.
- Presenting the Opus Series, a series of presentations by feminist curators Whitney Chadwick and Marcia Tucker.
- Commissioning and presenting short plays about Emily Carr, Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe. I had the courage to undertake this only because I knew you would buy tickets to attend.
- Making a success of Artropolis 2001, thanks largely to the ability to “spread the word” through this newsletter.
I look forward to whatever lies ahead, but I will always look back at the writing of this column as the most remarkable professional experience of my life. And for that, I am forever grateful to David van Berckel, Scott Cronshaw and Opus for providing me with the privilege of this platform.
This is how I describe myself on my website: “I research, teach, write and publish about professional development for visual artists, seeking to maximize the pleasure, productivity and success of the creative practitioners I deeply respect and admire.” I mention this because of that last part about you.
Making art was only a hobby for me. I have only modest skills; hence my reverence for the truly talented. My admiration and respect for creators of visual art led to a determination to serve artists. Founding and running Presentation House Gallery and the Alliance for Arts and Culture, founding this newsletter in 1986, teaching, writing books and leading workshops — all these activities have been ways to serve you.
During my tenure writing this column I got a devastating diagnosis of HIV. I faced a path of challenging treatments that could not cure and that would end in the ultimate ceremony of parting. But a medical miracle led to a very positive and unexpected outcome. On the day I was given back a future, I went for a walk along the Stanley Park seawall. I will never forget that walk in the sunshine.
I felt like the luckiest person in the world to have escaped death and to have lived the creative path I chose. I may not have found wealth or glory, but I reveled in the joys of colour, composition and texture. And my supreme moments of consciousness were those of majestic pleasure in the presence of great work by great artists. (Brian Jungen, you are my God.)
I am envious of all of you who are blessed with true talent. I hope you never take it for granted and that your talent and your process will forever truly fulfill you, because looking at your work is the most valued thing that I and many others do.
So to make celebratory this parting, here are some famous words for you:
- “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” (Vincent van Gogh)
- “Every artist was first an amateur.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
- “Painting is easy when you don’t know how and very difficult when you do.” (Edgar Degas)
- “Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished? Yes; work never begun.”
- (Christina Rosetti)
- “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes; art is knowing which ones to keep.” (Ansel Adams)
- “[Making] art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” (Twyla Tharp)
- “Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” (Stella Adler)
- “An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.” (Charles Horton Cooley)
- "I foresee it and yet I hardly ever carry it out as I foresee it. It transforms itself by the actual paint. I don't, in fact, know very often what the paint will do, and it does many things which are very much better than I could make it do." (Francis Bacon)
- “As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward." (Vincent van Gogh)
- “People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.” (Claude Monet)
- “No masterpiece was ever created by a lazy artist.” (Salvador Dali)
- “Damn! And just when I was starting to get it!” (Edgar Degas on his deathbed)