In my mid fifties I decided to take up painting. My maternal great-grandfather had been a well-known artists in Central America, earning his living as a painter of frescos on the walls and ceilings of churches and other public buildings. My mother also painted, though living in poverty afforded her little time or money to support her passion. So, in midlife, I decided to discover if I had any artistic talents. I choose silk painting which I didn’t realize was a medium less forgiving than oil or even watercolor. Once a hue strikes silk, fate takes control as much as the artist.
During my first lesson, I was given a large square of silk and told to paint whatever I liked. The intent was for me learn how color spreads on the cloth. Around me, my classmates fell eagerly to their task. Some were accomplished artists in other mediums, and they were filled with curiosity about this new technique. I, on the other hand, being neither accomplished nor feeling imaginative, sat mesmerized. How long I stared into that vast expanse of arctic whiteness, as if I suffered from snow blindness, I don’t know, but halfway through the assignment my teacher lost patience. “Caroline,” she barked as she stood over my shoulder. “It’s just a piece of silk!”
Jarred from my lethargy, I realized she was right. I’d been intimidated by a cloth with a retail value of $2. Nothing was at stake except my vanity and my hubris in believing whatever I did had to be perfect.
Like me, Michael Moritz, CEO of a large investment company, decided to take up painting in mid life. And like me, he was awed by his first square of white canvas. He got over it, as did I, and learned a similar lesson:
The consequences of an unsatisfactory painting are only frustration and disappointment — nothing worse. The canvas will not punch you in the eye or bruise anything beyond your ego. (“Why I Paint,” Michael Moritz, Fortune, 7/22/2013, pg106.)
I had to laugh. Art teaches us to look closely at the world around us, but mostly we learn a lesson about ourselves.
(A silk painting by the author, Carolne Miller)