Life Is Short, Art Long

“BeBop Spoken Here”
copyright, 2021, Molly Larson Cook
36 x 24, Acrylic on canvas

“Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting,
experience treacherous, judgement difficult.”
— Hippocrates (460-400 B.C.)

As the King of Siam once sang, “It’s a puzzlement!”

I’ve worked my way through “puzzlements” in the past, but this one is so close to my heart that I’ve had more difficulty.

I’m a born entrepreneur. Over the years, I have started and run several businesses. When other kids were playing Dolls and House, I was playing Office. I still get a rush walking through any office supply emporium. I’ve loved designing and handing out my business cards. Finding office space. Keeping records. Even filling out my annual tax forms.

With one of my ventures, I was featured as a “woman in business,” and when – as a writer without an agent – I published my own books, I didn’t do it with the online publishing available. I started my own press and made it happen.

When I left all that behind and began painting, I knew the painting business would require some of those same skills, but I wanted to paint. To create the work. To mess around, not with boats as Kenneth Graham wrote in The Wind in the Willows, but with colors and canvas.

I did the work and had some shows in California. Then I had a show in Oregon where I live now. I sold some paintings and heard good things about my work.

My inbox is filled day by day with information about sales and art marketing and what it takes and how to do it. But three things have changed it all for me.

  1. Most recently, the pandemic. I can do nothing about that.
    2. Social media.
    3. Timing and a change in my attitude.

Okay, four things.

I’ll start with timing. I did not have a traditional route to painting. I didn’t get to art school until I was in my 50s even though it was in my heart many years before that. So I’m late to the game and I’ve resisted trading on the “talented old lady” image. That’s not me. I’m just an artist and happy to be able to do this so late in my life.

Social media. I hate it. All of it. It’s a bog I don’t want to step into. I read constantly that I MUST show my work on social media if I’m going to sell it. Beyond my two blogs, I want nothing to do with social media. I kept thinking I might change my mind about that, but so far, no. I don’t see it happening.

The pandemic. What can any of us say? Galleries closed, opportunities for open houses at my studio ended, new ways of thinking and shopping and living have happened and it’s a catch-up game for us all now.

My attitude. Here’s the nut of all this. I ran my businesses well and made money. Not the kind of money people are making these days with cryptocurrency or non-fungible tokens (many of them works of art), but I was comfortable. As many point out, making art costs money. So it does. I’m not rich, but I’m careful. It’s wonderful to sell a piece or a few pieces of my work, but I can no longer justify spending hours and chunks of time on “marketing and sales.”

I was reading Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit last night and came across this inspiring passage he wrote to one of his students:

There is nothing so important as art in the world, nothing so constructive, so life-sustaining. I would like you to go to your work with a consciousness that it is more important than any other thing you might do. It may have no great commercial value, but it has an inestimable and lasting life value. People are often so affected by outside opinion that they go to their most important work half-hearted or half ashamed.
‘What’s the use of it if you are not making money out of it?’ is a too common question.Go to your work because it is the most important living to you.”

Much of my life was writing. I still love it and one of my businesses was teaching writing to serious adults with ideas. Nurturing serious writers is still close to my heart. I’ve been torn for months about which direction I’m going. Now, I’m not. I can do both and do them well, but I don’t have to try to squeeze myself into a mold that was not made for me.

Art, the real thing, is not about fitting into any mold made for somebody else. Or, to paraphrase Joseph Campbell in his work on myths: If you’re on a path, it’s somebody else’s path.

I’ll continue to enjoy my studio every day and I’ll continue to be inspired by jazz. I’ll show my paintings as opportunities come up, and they’ll remain on sale. I’ll contact galleries as I can, and I’ll expand the art as time allows and mood happens. I’m currently designing greeting cards that will be available this summer in limited editions. And I’ll coach writers who are serious about their work.

The retirement package isn’t much, but it’s a dream job.

6 thoughts on “Life Is Short, Art Long

  1. When people say, “You’re not older, you’re better,” I say “Why can’t we be older AND better?”
    I think we’re both, my dear…:-)

  2. Will let you know when I have cards…And yes…gotta keep a balance going…

  3. I’ll be anxious to see your greeting cards and it sounds like you have a great attitude about life and career – not surprising based on the Molly I know.

  4. You are one of the writers who keep me going in that direction…and one of the collectors who kept me going the other direction! Thank you for everything…

  5. Brilliant. I’m so happy you’ve arrived at this conclusion! Like it or not, you are one wise woman.

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