Staying Up Much Too Late

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

We have gotten off the good ship America and will hunt for whales no more.  Perhaps we have failed to regain our confidence, our will to succeed, in this our nation.  We accept, albeit mournfully, that we will never be in the party, meet the honorable undersecretary of state for lunch, invent some hot new cutting-edge technology, or see our names spelled out in red plastic letters across a movie marquee.  We will not receive due mention in the sober black on white of The New York Times, discover our picture in Rolling Stone magazine, or Forbes, or People–not even in the background, at, say, a celebrity-studded charity event.  We will never, in short, amount to much of anything.  And more: Perhaps we have, through successive failures of our own or through witnessing those of others, become honest skeptics, not merely of our own potential for success but of our culture’s values in general.  We do not believe that anything is possible, that good fortune is just around the corner for anyone but the few and very lucky, that anyone perpetually reawakens to a perpetually new dawn.

Gordon Theisen, Staying Up Much Too Late: Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and the Dark Side of the American Psyche.

I am sitting up in bed, reading, waiting to become drowsy.  My school work for tomorrow has been completed in a timely manner, and I’ve decided not to go into the studio tonight to begin something that will keep me up at a dreadful hour.  I hate to come up short on sleep when the school week is barely under way.  I’ll live to paint another day.

I was deeply stirred at what I’ve posted above.  I am nearly finished with this book by Gordon Theisen, and it is penetrating, to say the very least–a sobering look at the American psyche, particularly through the eyes of those who wish to create art in some fashion.  I believe I can say, at age 58, that I am sober-minded when assessing my personal role in the arts.  I did not set out to make it a career, choosing instead to work jobs that paid me consistently and provided benefits.  I don’t regret that decision.  When I started my sole proprietorship in 2004, I of course had dreams of it blossoming into much more than it has at this stage.  But in the midst of all those trials and errors, successes and disappointments, I believe I still have found what this enterprise is all about, to me.  I have warm memories of those times when I was publicized and sought after, and certainly don’t want to diminish the value of those experiences.  But the reason I know that I am an artist, is because I still make art by compulsion.  I cannot be happy, not making art.  I make art when there is no audience, when there is no market, when there is no one to whom I can show it.  I make art, even when it’s going to be matted, sleeved and placed in a steamer trunk for safe keeping.  I make art because I cannot see myself doing anything else with this degree of inner satisfaction.

An English professor whom I profoundly admire told me back in the late 1980’s that when students told him they wanted to be writers, he asked: “Why?”  He wanted to know if they wanted to write, or if they wanted to become famous, wealthy, successful.  His conviction was that if they sought to become writers because they wanted to write, that they would probably turn out to be great writers.  I still remember his dictum: “History owes us nothing.  If we are famous, wealthy, successful, then so be it.  But it isn’t owed.  It’s a gift.”

Those words abide with me.

I hope the tenor of this post is what I have intended to get across.  I feel badly for anyone suffering disappointment, having never achieved the Dream.  As for myself, I’m grateful still to be alive, well, and granted the ability to create.  An artist creates a lot of good work, and a lot of bad work.  An artist just creates, period.  And I am grateful that I have been granted the freedom to create.

Thanks for reading.

I paint to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


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6 Responses to “Staying Up Much Too Late”

  1. Shelley Says:

    I have almost always found your blog intellectually and artistically stimulating, and this post is especially profound. You are finding your way to the bottom of things, which perhaps is also the apex. When I am feeling my healthiest, it’s when I’m in touch with my own natural creativity, however it manifests. I have been struggling to find my way back to it lately


  2. djdfr Says:

    If I apply society’s criteria to my painting efforts, I should stop. I continue because I enjoy doing it.


  3. BJR Says:

    Creativity is a gift that has been “given” to us. As long as we’re creating…we’re adding our part to the whole, right? If someone is touched by it…we’ve have added to life…their life, even if we’re not famous. What a treasure for whoever “holds it” It’s true, sometimes we struggle to reach it…sometimes, because of circumstances, it’s laid down for awhile…but it’s always there, waiting for us! Creating is my life…and it brings me joy, even through pain. Hopefully, my joy is portrayed to others and their life is touched. That fulfills, not?!

    Thanks so much for all your thoughts. I enjoy them…and learn.


  4. davidtripp Says:

    Thank you. I enjoyed your comment that creativity, though “laid down for awhile” is still waiting for us when we pick it back up. A faithful friend, yes?


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