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Hallelujah Anyway

Post #1509 • February 2, 2012, 9:13 AM

[Image: Kenneth Patchen []

Kenneth Patchen [source]

Feelings of fear and obligation prompted me to acquire a couple of books by Tad Crawford, but to atone, I also picked up a copy of The Walking-Away World by Kenneth Patchen. (I think that artists never stop longing for another, better universe in which fairies take away your art during the night and leave money under your pillow.) This book has an introduction by the redoubtable comics artist Jim Woodring that begins:

Once, in a moment of weakness, I bought a book that was intended to teach artists with no business savvy how to market and sell their work. I settled down to read it and got as far as halfway through the introduction, where it said:

Many people believe that artists are special beings with special powers, who perform some sort of mystical service for the world that only they can provide. Nothing could be further from the truth! Artists are ordinary people like everyone else. They have their job to do, just as the plumber has his. The plumber fixes pipes; the artist creates art.

It says a lot about the greatness of America that a person can write and publish such dangerous, inflammatory rubbish here without going to jail. God only knows how many fresh young sapheads that book steered away from secure and socially sanctioned careers and into uncharted realms of obsession where artists do their dreadful night wrestling.

Yes, of course I know that at the most fundamental level everyone is divine which is to say ordinary. But was there ever a wild and yearning youth who saw the words YOU WILL BE A PLUMBER written in the sky in letters of flame? Was there ever a plumber who plied his or her trade as a compulsive vocation, mad for pipes, desperate to install them even where they were not wanted, making almost no money and enduring the harshest critical attacks for their efforts decade after decade until they tumbled, still brazing, into their grave? Well, perhaps there was. If so, that plumber was an artist, and is to be pitied.

Later, this, which I adore:

To say that Patchen was not a natural draughtsman is an understatement. He was not a draughtsman at all. There is nothing in any of his pictures that indicate that he could have drawn anything from life. There are no human faces that are more than simple daubs.

What he did have was that most vital quality in the visual artist's tool kit: authority. Did he aspire to draw better? There is no reason to believe it. His pictures did not evolve over the decades. What he drew, he drew, and there it was, solid and real. Is it enough? It is everything.

Hallelujah Anyway.

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