The Artist's Children

In his late years the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch was arrested breaking into peoples houses and stealing art.  What makes this this strange but simple thing so fascinating is the fact that he was attempting to steal back his own paintings that had been done years earlier.  He told the police he was trying to rescue his "children." 

I love that story.  It drives home the fact to me that regardless of how we create our art, we always have a place in our heart for it.  I used to look through books of art and see that many really big artists still owned works that had been done by them decades ago.  It didn't seem possible that a really great Rauschenberg or Rosenquist hadn't found a buyer through a gallery.  My guess was that they were holding onto them till their own prices went up and they could sell them for more.  Warhol remarked in his diaries that he was particularly bitter about a high sale value at Sotheby's for one of his works when he had originally sold it for only a fraction of the price it fetched later.  And of course, he didn't get any of that money.

I think Munch was right.  Artworks are our children, and it is difficult to let them go sometimes.  There is a tremendous investment of time and energy and passion in creating something like that. 

For those of you who don't know, I was recently signed by a gallery here in Houston.  It is the first time I have ever been represented by a gallery and I am both excited and a little nervous.  They have already scheduled my first solo show there for November.  When I went there for the "interview" with about ten paintings I was fully expecting supportive words and possibly even another meeting somewhere down the road after they had seen my work in person.  I was bowled over when the contract was pulled out so quickly.  I really didn't see that coming at all. 

When I was getting ready to leave, I asked if they wanted me to leave anything with them.  They wanted me to leave nine of the ten canvases.  So I did.  But driving home, through the haze of excitement, I felt a real pang of loss.  One of the canvases I left had hung in my home for about 8 years.  Not because I couldn't sell it, but because it's one of my favorite pieces. 

Our favorite works are usually not our best.  Sometimes an accident on canvas that becomes something special can delight our artistic sensibilities more than the one that we slave over to bring into being.  If you visit an artist's studio, you'll see the good works, but chances are the works that the artist loves the most will be hanging over their own bed.  We keep those children close to us.

Those are the works that in time truly inspire us.  They are the ones that we brought into this world, and then they surprised us by showing us something we didn't see before.  They teach us. 

Nowadays I don't think Rauschenberg and Rosenquist kept certain works for financial reasons.  I do however take more time looking at works marked "collection of the artist."  There's more to these works.  A deeper, more profound something. 

Edvard Munch never got punished for his breaking and entering, even though it happened several times.  I imagine I wouldn't press charges if Damien Hirst or Jasper Johns broke into my house for their own art.  After all, children like to see their parents from time to time too.