A new gallery, the River Front Art Coop, is opening in downtown Troy, and I’m schlepping some of my work down there this afternoon with a view to showing it on consignment even though when it comes to the visual arts, I’m feeling pretty rusty. I did the cover illustrations for both my mystery novels, but aside from a few collages, I’ve neglected what used to be my primary means of artistic expression.
All my formal training was in the visual arts, so why have I reinvented myself as a writer instead of a painter? Off the top of my head, I can think of lots of reasons:
- Writing is so much speedier. At the computer, my ideas flow from my fingers. Saying it’s effortless would be lying, but for me, it’s a heck of lot easier than painting, and you can say so much more in a shorter time.
- Writing is cheaper by far. A decent computer and Internet connection, a ream of bright white multipurpose paper from Staples, a new toner cartridge now and then, and I’m good to go. Have you priced art supplies lately?
- Writing requires less space. In a space six by six feet – that’s 36 square feet – I have my L-shaped computer desk, my file cabinet, my comfy office chair, a little wicker stand that serves as a cat bed, and a picture window with a lake view. In our present home, alas, there’s no space that’s remotely adequate for my needs as a visual artist. If my longing to paint becomes overwhelming, I’ll have to build or rent studio space.
- Writing makes me happier. I believe I’m better as a writer than I ever was as a painter. I don’t have that inner critic nagging me about what a mediocre writer I am – at any rate, not until I begin dealing with the marketplace. When I’m drawing or painting, in contrast, my inner critics are relentless and nasty. They tell me my work is crap – pedestrian, amateurish, unoriginal. Where do these voices come from? Some are former art teachers. They weren’t actually all that discouraging, but I’ve internalized them anyway – especially a world-famous art therapist who told me my work was “hopelessly vulgar.”
- Writing enables me to reach more people more affordably. Over the course of decades, I’ve developed a jaundiced view of the art world. One-of-a-kind works of art are luxury items, and few people can afford to buy them. For centuries, the visual arts have been the province of the privileged – commissioned by the church or supported by wealthy patrons. Books, on the other hand, are still relatively affordable. And writing on the Internet, I can reach a potentially limitless audience for free. It feels much more politically correct than hanging my work in a gallery.
Nonetheless, those big empty walls at the River Front Art Coop have a powerful allure. The space is magnificent – a high-ceilinged commercial space that reminds me of my old lofts in SoHo, with a view of the Hudson from windows at the back. I miss the camaraderie of the community of artists I knew in New York City, and perhaps the three women starting this gallery, including the stained glass artist Terry Faul, will be able to help fulfill that particular void in my life.
So after I publish this post, I’ll get to work unearthing some art work and loading it into my Focus hatchback. I’ll try to shush the inner critic who tells me the work isn’t good enough, subject myself to their scrutiny and see what happens. Who knows, I may be seduced back into the visual arts, at least part-time. If I clean up my office, I might even find space for that new drafting table I haven’t unpacked yet.