SOME OF THE BEST
August 21, 1998
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Rod in action at The Riverton Rendezvous, July 2001.
Photograph courtesy Jay Hagan.
A Thought for Today
Life isn't a picnic, but neither is a
Rod is on the road for a
couple of weeks and will be back with you at the beginning of September.
I have never
forgotten "A Letter to the Painter," from a 1998 Flight Plan. I might be
wrong but I feel it is one of the most personal insights into you and your
thought process. Is this an ongoing correspondence and will you be sharing
any more of your letters to your painter friend?
Sincerely, Josh Reynolds
Dear Josh, Other letters do exist and after about six I thought of perhaps
combining them into a book entitled "Letters to the Painter". I did so but
like several other books I've written, never got around to offering it for
publication. It may yet happen because in the letters I began to inform
myself as much as "the painter" on how I felt about life and art. If I was
being informed, perhaps the information I had dug out of myself might
apply to others.
Publishing more of the letters is something I'll think about. And, yes,
our correspondence is ongoing. Kindest regards, Rod
A LETTER TO THE PAINTER
I doubt your wait is anxious,
but my own anxiety concerning letters left too long unanswered causes me
to write straight back to you. I hope this note does not arrive amid too
many empty canvases. If so, I remind you with brushstroke as with pen and
paper it is always draught or downpour. In-betweens seem left for those
who by necessity clock hours. There are times when I'd gladly practice
fisticuffs with clocks, but never time clocks..
You say you want to paint, then do. Do not accept advice on how or why or
even to what purpose. Art is its own reason; surely that applies to
painting even more than word work. Writing, painting or whatever, the
nouns and verbs of any art find their way to us and in proper order when
the time comes. In the end inspiration is more dependable than marriage
partners or the truth. Perhaps art is the only truth. I am anyway certain
that if we stay true to our visions, what comes of them will be honesty
You should not be afraid of being selfish. Most well meant invitations
ought to be as unwelcome to the artist in us as noise, or what flows from
us will be forever stops and starts. As always, alas, the best stuff stays
in our heads refusing to be brokered at any price. We will never get it
down onto paper or up on canvas. That worries me no more. I look upon
what's left behind as seeds toward the next work. Never again do I want to
walk away from a just-completed book totally empty of ideas. That kind of
emptiness is a harder prospect that the thought of death and it's too hard
jump-starting the next work without a little compost as a platform.
You say that you have burned some work. Good. Very good. You won't regret
it later on. I once saved everything. No more. The hope that inspiration
can be gotten back from some unfinished sentence or unwisely started work
is false hope carried to the worst extreme - desperation. It will leave
you beached and worse off every time.
I think about you and your work with increasing frequency. I picture you
in that ramshackle country house not stoking stove with old canvases to
stave off chill but looking so intently at the open frame it fills before
you even rise to mix your colors. A piece of art ought to be nearly
finished in our heads before we give our hands free reign. The truth will
always have less ornamentation when what we have to say is more clearly
thought-out ahead of time. It is all right if thought is just a hair ahead
of brushstroke but giving the hand free reign is for finger painters.
Disastrous for the artist. If someone tells you they are unsure where
their hand is leading them beware and don't believe it; and I urge you to
ignore other people's criticism. Your own will be hard enough.
How wise of you not to imagine yourself the next Picasso or Rouault but
only you. Art is only what we bring to it and take from it as individuals.
The copy of anything will never approach the original. Group thought like
gang rape has no love in it, not any real passion or kindness. It is not
enough to be good at our work, we must be good to it. It is a fine thing
to be eagle-like and proud of what you do, but never so overbearing as to
forget the work comes first - any celebration later. As banks cannot stop
or prevent inflation, we cannot stop friends from inflating (or for that
matter, deflating) our egos; we need not, however, aid and abet them. It
is always dumb to believe in our own importance over the importance of our
Tennessee Williams used to say of painters, "Their posthumous reputations
are much better than what they are." I do not find that thought overly
critical. It isn't easy to have friends, many friends, and still be good
at what you do. Friends give so much, but the payback expected or not,
takes too much out of us. Saps energy that should have been conserved and
ladled out as needed to work. For myself, I have spent too much time in
public - not enough locked off and thinking with enough seriousness about
what I do. If someone offered to embroider a sampler for my wall, I would
ask that it read, "Stop and think." None of us stop enough. Almost none
think as much as we should and few, if any, join both words with "and,"
and do it.
Finally, the sketch you sent me was superb. It is on my mantel, still
unframed. I go out of myself at times to walk amid the upstate New York
woods you got on paper so well. I can smell their bark from across the
room. When it's windy I close the window, fearful that your trees will
lose some leaves. The way your light comes through those first few limbs
and that clump of juniper where the path turns is a miracle new to me.
While I am flattered that you wrote to me for thoughts and some advice, I
believe that you are far along in becoming an important painter. I envy
your future; will use it as one more reason to stay alive as long as
possible, hoping I can be part of it.
Your path through the woods is safe here, your letters find safe haven
too. Courage. A friend ends letters to me with that word. None of us can
have too much of it.
Courage, and love till next
- from "Letters To The
Painter", first published in Flight Plan 8/21/98
Details of Rod's next
appearance can be obtained by following the link below.
Your Troubles Away" - the music of Jerry Herman