I’ve been having conversations with friends lately about art. Some are passionate about art, some are semi-interested, and some have no interest beyond something to decorate the walls.

 This last group always fascinates me simply because, for a large part of my life I didn’t know they existed. I grew up thinking that everyone would want to be an artist if only they could.  I thought that doctors and accountants and mechanics and railway drivers … all of them were going to work secretly thinking ‘if only I could be an artist, how great my life would be!’ Just like I was.

 And if they didn’t want to be an artist, I thought they would at least admire artists.  At least think being creative was something to aspire to.

 I was 30 before I realized this wasn’t true. It finally dawned when I met a woman who told me that, from the age of 13, she only wanted to be a corporate lawyer. Not only that, but she wanted to specialize in finance! Good grief – I couldn’t think of anything worse! And during the course of our conversations, I realized that she couldn’t think of anything worse than being an artist.

 Weird!

But now I’ve met lots of people like her. My best friend who’s a writer, but doesn’t much go for paintings. Family members who like nice landscapes, but who don’t really get my cow portraits. And dear friends who are just bemused by things I consider to be great art.

 So now I get it. Most people don’t feel about art the way I do. Most people go happily through life without ever considering what makes good art. And that’s OK, of course, because they have passions and interests and skills that I could never aspire to.

But I am so grateful that art is still as important to me as it ever was – maybe more so as I get older.

Van Gogh, Like, Blew My Mind Man 

When I was 20 and in college and not really taking anything seriously except boys and beer, I went on an art trip to London. We went to the Tate or the National Gallery — I don’t even know where — and we walked through halls and halls of classic paintings and then all of a sudden we arrived in a room full of Van Goghs. Pictures that I had seen on postcards and prints but never in the flesh. 

And all of a sudden, out of the blue, I was crying. Because these pictures were so real, so full of life and of joy and of pain and of tears and of regret, and you couldn’t even pretend you didn’t feel it because it was so visceral and you just knew you were in the presence of a man who had lived – REALLY lived – and who had been able to translate the raw experience of his soul onto canvas in a way the few ever have before or since. And everything you had ever felt or could ever feel was there in that painting of a chair or a vase of flowers, and it was just too much. I was embarrassed by my tears then, at 19. (Now in my *cough* 50s *cough,* I’d delight in them.) 

And if you’re reading this thinking I’m mad, well I am I suppose but honestly seeing this web reproduction doesn’t even come close. See the real thing and you will weep too, if you have a heart.

A year later, I had my final college art exhibit. I was only marginally talented and my exhibit would probably have garnered a C at best, but during the oral exam, I told the examiner about my experience at the Tate with the Van Goghs, and as I told him, my eyes filled with tears once again and when I was done he said ‘anyone who has that reaction to Van Gogh has art in their blood’ and then he gave me a B+.

So I might not be a great painter, but at least I appreciate those who are.

 So what is good art?

 For me, art should change the way you feel.  You should remember it later. It should rewire your brain in some small way.

 It can be a painting or a drawing or a sculpture or an event or a happening … but whatever it is, it should sear into your brain just a little bit and make an emotional connection beyond ‘that’s a pretty picture.’ It should speak to you the way Van Gogh’s sunflowers, shimmering with life and pain and love, spoke to me that day in the Tate. 

 And this is what I strive for every day. Not Van Gogh status of course, but just the ability to communicate something real, to change the way even one person feels about animals. I don’t have to get rich or famous – I just need one person, somewhere in the world, to think ‘we need to be kinder to cows.’

Melancholy Cow

Melancholy Cow

And until that happens, I’ll keep painting 🙂

 

12 Comments

  1. Heidi
    August 22, 2014

    I am a fellow SBS’er and I have been loving your cow portraits. I did not grow up in a rural area, and have never been around cows, but now I think they have the sweetest faces. I love what you have written. Your cows are touching my heart.

    Reply
  2. Sherri
    August 22, 2014

    Beautifully stated. I feel the exact same way about art and cows!

    Reply
  3. nadia
    August 22, 2014

    Hi, Louise. Came over from SBS to enjoy your blog. It seems to me that good art has the three H’s. Head, Heart, and Hand. That is, a driving idea, passion, and technique. Seems to me you nailed it.
    best, nadia

    Reply
  4. Mary J
    August 23, 2014

    Louise this is wonderful. I am not an artist, but I certainly appreciate art in whatever context it speaks to me. Your cows speak to me, I smile every time you post a new drawing. With respect to your tearful moment with Van Gogh, I had a similar reaction when I entered the Smithsonian and viewed my first Picasso in person. Instead of tears, though, I had a terrible case of goosebumps and jaw drop. I could not believe I was standing in front of a Picasso. It was the most beautiful painting ever!

    Reply
  5. DebS
    August 23, 2014

    I also came over from SBS. Have been enjoying your cows, and I’m all for being kinder to cows!

    Reply
  6. louise fletcher
    August 23, 2014

    Hi all, thanks for the kind comments – much appreciated!

    Reply
  7. Nathalie Renotte
    August 23, 2014

    Thanks for mooing and sharing, Louise. Coming too for SBS to your blog, I discover you’re from Yorshire! I have dear friends from there, love the place, you are reminding me I should visit more. And thanks for raising the What is Art question among us sketchers. One of the things that Sketchbook Skool brought to me was liberation from the ambition, fed from childhood by those who thought they recognized talent in me, of doing Art. in youth I couldn’t meet their expectations nor my own and simply stopped in total self-disgust. 20 years later I can simply sketch for the fun of it, and the sharing of a small gift with friends who don’t expect from me The Grand Breakthrough. I have another question : do artists enjoy art? Seriously. Sometimes after concerts that had me fly up to the rafters I pass musicians with their flute, violin cases, who do not seem in the slightest moved by what they just gave us. Just a job to do, apparently. And what about those plasticians who, from a wide- ranging start showing formidable promise to my eyes, now focuse on one production that has met success ? ( a Bram Bogaert retrospective at the Cobra Museum in Amsterdam brought that to mind: the man obviously had more to his palette than the lucrative repetition of his better known style). My idea is : art is not in the work itself, or in the artist: it is in the ENCOUNTER between a work of art and the sensibility of the person experiencing ( viewing, hearing, touching,…) it. Once experienced, both the artist and the public naturally try to repeat the magical event, not always succeeding. And the sensibility vary with each person, the mood she’s in, the time of life. I enjoy a wider variety of art now than earlier, and that’s one reason I’m not sorry getting old. Who would have thought I’d ever enjoy Balinese dances, Baroque architecture… or portraits of cows? Thanks.

    Reply
  8. Nathalie Renotte
    August 23, 2014

    … and a post scriptum: my niece Lea, 12, love cows for some mysterious reason. I take pictures of cows for her when I travel. I’ll share your posts with her and she’ll be very happy!

    Reply
  9. nrhatch
    August 23, 2014

    Very moo-ving. Mary M shared a link to this post, so here I am.

    I have a watercolor of a cow hanging about my desk. I am kind to cows and refuse to eat them (or piggies, sheep, or any other meat).

    I like not having to wrestle with my conscience before chewing my cud.

    Reply
  10. JOAN
    August 23, 2014

    Louise: This is a very moving post. Your cows speak to me too. Such expressive faces/eyes. My grand parents had a farm when I was a child. My happiest moments in life were spent there. I have loved animals of all sorts all my life. We rescue Golden Retriever seniors whose owners have passed away or who have been turned in, hardly adoptable.

    I had a similar experience as a child when I was looking at a magazine at my grandmother’s house and came to an Andrew Wyeth painting of a golden lab on the bed. It took my breath away and from that moment forward I knew I wanted to paint using watercolors. Even at that young age I knew that there was something very moving about art and the unspoken message conveyed to the viewer. My love of art was dashed early on when in kindergarten I drew and colored my grands cow, Rosie, a love Jersey cow that was a pinkish brown, hence her name. The teacher tore up my drawing/coloring telling me there were no pink cows and to "do it right or don’t do it at all." I didn’t pick up a pen or pencil or paints for nearly 50 years. When I saw your cows, purple, pinks, gold I thought of that teacher and smiled.

    Reply
  11. louise fletcher
    August 23, 2014

    Oh Lord Joan – how awful your teacher was! I am so angry just reading that!

    Reply
  12. Kathy Strom
    August 25, 2014

    Louise, I’ve had similar experiences at the Art Institute of Chicago… emotionally moved by certain paintings while standing right there close enough to see the brush strokes and feel the "energy" of the artist… sometimes thunderstruck. I also had a passion to draw in every spare moment of my time. Two teachers took away some of my joy… a nun punished me because I didn’t copy something EXACTLY like the example she had put up (I had taken it to new levels of creativity)… and the other teacher dissed something I’d painted from my heart by telling me I that should only create politically-significant artwork that would lead to change. After that, I became too conscious of that and no longer had inspiration to paint. I wish I could say those two teachers didn’t affect me. I know I was way too sensitive. By the way, your cow art COULD lead to change in the way people view cows (from solely to eat vs. beings with personalities, feelings, and souls).

    Reply

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