Is It in the Water?

The other night I had my Calgary neighbors over. There must be something in the water as prairie people are pretty cool. My neighbors are no exception. They are full of good humour, grounded and interesting. I am lucky.

One of them is an absolute enthusiast for drawing and talented. She drags me out to Friday morning life drawing session when she’s in town. My other neighbor is accomplished in watercolor and was lucky enough to be taught by Robert Bateman in high school. They both spent their professional careers in the Alberta oil patch at the top of their trade flying around the world putting deals together. Now in their early retirement attention has once again returned to art.

Over wine and beer an interesting conversation ensued. I kept hearing them reflect about the crossroads of their youth. The great ‘what if’ ….what if they had chosen the arts back then. My instant response was, ‘It doesn’t matter’ which leads me to wonder why I would think that.

Regret is not in the vocabulary for us fifty-somethings as only youth can afford the luxury. We’ve lived too long and seen too much. We begin to realize there is something bigger at work as the dots connect. In saying that there is much fear and loathing in the arts at any age regardless of our timeline. There is no place to hide when you expose yourself young or old. No matter how sincere or alternative our intentions are they will surface in the art we create. That’s the horror and the beauty of it all. In that way nobody’s ahead or behind. As for myself I sometimes secretly wonder the exact opposite, “If only I pursued a real career. I would be financially comfortable or at the least more respected”. Through the power of the creative imagination only human beings can weave many lives into one. It’s just not healthy to hang out there for any length of time.

The artist’s life is not an easy one. In youth a perfectly intelligent and capable person gives up the shine of a mainstream career with its promises real or imagined, to pursue a fragile, obscure path in the arts. Family and loved ones, never mind the public at large, criticize and discourage out of worry for the young fledgling artist’s own welfare. As the artist grows older they witness their contemporaries do well as they struggle. In these wee hours of the creative journey cracks begin to show in the dream. If and when success comes it’s usually too late to go on an ego trip and if it does come sooner than later he or she usually makes a fool of themselves. The arts have a way of tempering the practitioner.

Of course this does not apply to the arts exclusively. Anyone in any discipline that took a chance will agree with this story. If you break down the beliefs and myths of modern society it doesn’t take a genius to see the big cracks in that dream. In the end we are all risk-takers and brave travelers on the highway of life to some degree. Everyone faces a crossroad at some point no matter how careful their path is. There was never any guarantee except in the fine print buried in an insurance policy. Winning or loosing has as much to do with chance and circumstance as strength and fortitude. It is easier to dive in when you know that.

My recently retired neighbors bring this hard won attitude to the arts developed along their particular road and the ‘lifer-artist’ is reminded that he is just another roadie. I suppose that could be why ‘it doesn’t matter’ or maybe it is in the water….or the booze was talking.

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