The Agonies and the Occasional Ecstasy

If you want to become a painter, you can; but it goes hand in hand with difficulty, worries, disappointments, melancholy, and powerlessness.

— Vincent Van Gogh

The agonies. They visit artists more often than tourists visit Disneyland.

Van Gogh named them accurately: difficulty, worries, disappointments, melancholy, and powerlessness.

A painter in one of my classes, for example, has been working for months on a family portrait. She can’t let it go. She paints and paints and repaints the same three small areas, hoping to perfect each likeness.

The teacher and the other students have begged her for weeks to stop, but she’s unwilling.

She’s suffering the agonies, those same blue meanies Van Gogh described.

In another of my classes, the teacher reacted strongly to a tonal painting of some azaleas I had done between sessions. She asked why I’d painted it tonally. After all, flowers are pretty colorful. What was I thinking?

I told her my painting was based on a black and white photo another artist had provided, and that I didn’t want to “invent” the colors.

She proceeded to explain her strong response, praising the composition created by the other artist and noting its superiority over my feeble designs.

Once again, here come those agonies.

Ecstasy, it sometimes seems, only arrives likes the cicadas, once every seventeen years; and only when someone you admire gives a thumbs-up to one of your paintings (or—better yet—someone buys it).

Even if it’s all-too-occasional, that ecstasy can make up for all the agonies.

Above: Tulips. Oil on fiberboard. 8 x 10 inches. Ships framed. Azaleas. Oil on fiberboard. 10 x 8 inches. Ships framed. Melancholy not included.