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by Frances Wosmek
On the Nature of Artists

Spring is the season of festivals, exhibits, and a blossoming of the arts in general. Paintings hung on fences, inside tents, on gallery walls and in barns suggest a flourishing affirmative for the aesthetic consciousness of our time.

In the midst of all those festivities only one thing appears to be missing .. the artist himself. Where is he hiding .. and IS he hiding? The answer will have to be yes.

Many of my best friends are artists, and a motley crew they are ... bold in their expression of individuality contrived in multi-various ways via clay, color and line arranged in lumps, daubs or smears.

However, it seems painfully clear that there is one common ground on which most of them meet. Almost to a man (or woman), they are timid, apprehensive, seemingly ridden with guilt and stooped beneath the weight of unspoken apologies for being.

My analyzation of this startling fact has revealed to me some remarkable insights on the nature of professionalism in the arts. Most of us in the embryonic stages of our careers, practicing our not-so-hesitant first efforts on the walls of rest rooms, white-washed fences or school book margins, were as out-going and confident as anyone else ... so, what happened?

As long as we maintained our amateur status all went well. We were the dreams of our mothers, the hopes of our fathers and the prodigies of our teachers. Had we been content to confine our talents within those easily approachable limits we might have basked forever in the comfortable glow of public approval. We would have been admired, sought after and endlessly praised. We would have been assured of any and all poster assignments. Chairperson-ship of miscellaneous and sundry decorating committees would have been a cinch.

...Or, we might have done as the genial old parish janitor I know who paints in his off-hours. His canvases adorn the basement wall behind the oil furnace. Not one of the bosomy church-supper ladies would miss taking the trouble to seek him out and pay homage to his god-given talent. He has even sold one or two to the over-zealous.

The upset occurs the moment one slips over the edge to a suspicion of professionalism. When the student emerges from behind the mysterious walls of an art school (which is generally believed to be an indulgence of the bohemian life in the company of nude models), he is ambitious, intoxicated with inspiration and eager to pick up the acclaim where he left it.

Alas for him! round eyes that glowed in former admiration have narrowed to cold, critical slits. Everyone (and that included EVERYone) is a vocal, voluble, not-to-be-silenced art critic. People whose aesthetic appetites have been nurtured by the Sunday comics are ready and only too eager to point out his shortcomings in authoritative detail. There are none too shy to smother hi with advice. Most will condescend to add, "I can't draw a straight line, but I know what I LIKE!"

Of course, should one weary of sparring the blows and ducking the poison arrows, it is always possible to retreat to the sewing circle .. or the oil furnace. But it will never be quite the same. Once tainted by the claim to professionalism, that universal appeal of unadulterated promise has been lost forever.


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