The Things Worth Doing

West End Blues
copyright 2021, Molly Larson Cook
Acrylic and acrylic ink on canvas
30 x 24

“The only work really worth doing — the only work you can do convincingly —
is the work that focuses on the things you care about.
To not focus on those issues is to deny the constants in your life.”
— Bayles and Orland, Art and Fear

This relatively simple idea is, in a different way, huge for an artist. Most of us are, after all, as complicated as every other human and affected by the changing winds of the world.

The pandemic has given us pause, and way more time to think about what matters, to even search our artists’ souls than we anticipated. We’ve been pushed to walk through a forest without a map and in the process have discovered more than we expected.

Some artists have discovered NFTs as a way to gain huge publicity with or without huge return, though some of those returns have boggled the rest of us.

Some artists have shut down more or less completely, vowing to paint again when things are better. If they ever are.

Some of us have experimented with ideas completely new and others have stayed with the same familiar subjects, often without much success or energy or the old sense of gratification.

For many of us, spending time with our art was a respite and refuge from all else that was going on, and yet the pandemic and lockdowns seem to have demanded something from us, something surprising that we were not prepared to give.

Fortunately, though, the pandemic also pushed us all to focus. Without the usual distractions — places to go, people to see, things to do — we were called back to ourselves. And for me, at least, to big questions. Would galleries open again? Would I be able to invite people to my studio? Would I have another show?

All driving questions that had, in the past, influenced my work.

Was I painting just for myself now? And if so, why?

So here’s what happened for me. After taking tentative steps in other directions, I returned again and again to jazz as my subject. The thing I care about. Not the instruments or images in the tunes, but the colors of jazz. I don’t hear music and think of colors. It’s the opposite for me. I see colors and think of jazz.

I’m not a musician although I did study jazz vocal for a few months with the wonderful Jay Clayton. I was writing a novel about a girl singer and wanted to get the feeling of it. When Jay told me I was ready and invited me to do a public performance in Seattle, I got very cold feet, Popsicle Toes, and demurred. But I had enough to finish and publish the novel, Listen.

The main thing that changed for me during the pandemic was that I slowed down. I stopped creating a painting every few days and had time, took time, to work more slowly. Without a deadline, I experimented with media and caught my breath after four shows — three in San Diego and one in Oregon — in three years.

Becoming an artist has been a late-in-life joy for me. The studio truly was a refuge during the pandemic and continues to be as we make our way back to something more familiar.

My studio is in a building with other work spaces, mostly offices and not studios. My business cards with one of the paintings are outside my door. With the pandemic, we have not seen much of each other, my neighbors and I. But one day recently, I was in the hallway when a woman approached me to ask if I was Molly.

She hesitantly told me that her daughter in grade school, still being taught remotely, had an assignment to write an essay about an artist. She didn’t know about other artists, and with everything closed during the pandemic, had no place to go look at art. But she had seen my card, so she and her mom had taken one. They looked me up and I became the subject of a school essay.

Selling my work is always a pleasure, but becoming the subject of a school essay was a first and took me to a different happy place. So, Ruthie, if you happen to read this, thank you. I’ll swap you a painting for a copy of your essay anytime.

Life and art and jazz continue to be a joy, no matter what.

11 thoughts on “The Things Worth Doing

  1. Giving it more thought…I’ve done the inperson thing for the kids…My granddaughter is the teacher and she’s good with those kindergartners…

  2. I’m sure that Ruthie had the most interesting essay in the class. And you should definitely take the invitation to appear in the class on ZOOM. It’s a piece of cake and if I can appear and talk about Beerchasing for thirty minutes in front of 50 Rotarians in Bend, you can bring those kids some joy.

  3. Lesley, it’s hard to believe we have never met. We are clearly sisters of the heart. And there’s Scottish DNA in my genes! This is a lovely comment. Thank you and let me know if you keep writing. I’m sure you’re good at it!

    Cheers, Molly

  4. Hey, thank you for the note and for the invitation. If I ever learn how to use Zoom I’ll take you up on it. You know I loved being there in person!!!

    Hope the class is going well this strange year…Stay healthy, honey. Love you, Grammy

  5. This is so beautiful! I love your line above “We’ve been pushed to walk through a forest without a map and in the process have discovered more than we expected.” ❤️
    I feel that deeply as well. “West End Blues” is just phenomenal as well – thank you for sharing this piece!

    You know, if you ever need something fun to do to bring some sunshine and silliness to your day – and also give you an ego boost because they will all think you are a just the Bees-Knees (I of course already do) – you can come be a Special Guest in my Kindergarten Zoom class!!

    I miss you and love you so much!
    XOXO Jeanie

  6. Your posts are the first things I read when they pop up in my inbox, Molly. I know I am going to enjoy every one of them, for the fine writing, for the interesting quotes, for the books mentioned that I often go in search of and because there is often something deeper, something worth mulling over during the course of the day. I guess you could say these things are “constants in my life”, for now. That quote has made me consider a return to writing – something I care about but stopped doing because I had not been focusing on what mattered to me.

  7. One reader let me know that she didn’t know what at NFT is. So, here’s the rest – non-fungible token. It’s a new big thing with crypto-currency.


  8. What an honor. I’m sure her essay was wonderful, as is the person creating the art.

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