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The Power of Community

by Mark Love

I think I bought into a lie. I’m seeing that now. At 54 years old I’m finally waking up to it.

To be fair, it wasn’t a hard sell to trick a shy, introverted young boy into believing it. I’m talking about the lie that says the best things in life are done alone. Without the help or influence of other people. All the music I loved, all the movies I watched on repeat, all the stories I believed in sold this lie. The ramblin’ troubadour, the loner cowboy or cop, the tortured and misunderstood painter.

Hiding in my room,

Safe within my womb,

I touch no one and no one touches me.

I am a rock, I am an island.

If you want to be the stuff of legend, go it alone. Don’t ask for help. Don’t even accept it. Don’t let someone else’s voice in. It might confuse what you’re doing, muddy your epic vision. Worse yet, you might have to share some of the credit when it’s all over.

No thank you.

This probably explains why, until I sort of had to, I didn’t normally attend the monthly art league General Meetings. I told myself it was because they interrupted my dinner. But I think it really had more to do with The Lie. Even as a beginner painter, when I should have been in sponge-mode soaking up as much instruction as experienced artists would give me, I stayed away. I wanted to be one hundred percent “self taught.”*

Enter the WVAL presidency last January, where I was asked to open the meetings with a welcome message. Now I’d have to go.

By the way, my wife has been attending these meetings for years because she’s a mature and emotionally evolved human. Which can be annoying. She’s a brilliant painter who isn’t threatened by other painters or scared to learn new things. She interacts with other artists about their techniques, experiments with new tools and materials upon their recommendations, and continually re-thinks her approach after admiring their beautiful works. See what I mean? Annoying.

And so I went, hoping it wouldn’t ruin me. Hoping I wouldn’t be told I was holding my brush the wrong way or using too much of the wrong medium or buying the wrong canvases. Hoping I wouldn’t be made to feel inferior. Afraid that the fragile baby artist in me might just get discouraged and give up.

But none of that happened. What happened instead was that I got inspired. Completely inspired, again and again. Angelique Ferrao opened me up to a world where simple faces can tell a very rich and complicated story, one that springs from the depths of the painter’s heart and even political convictions. Robert Pankey humbled me in the best way,

demonstrating how brilliantly talented a late-in-life beginner painter can become if he will just let his more experienced wife teach him a few things about how to make art. Katherine Evans’s magnetic personality eased us all into a demonstration of how a loose approach and fearless colors can make a landscape come to life. Vie Dunn-Harr’s story about profound medical problems that arose from decades of contact with oils and solvents had a huge impact on my thinking (I’m now using acrylics a lot more often). And the dream team of Jim Street and Tim Liebrock took the intimidating mystery out of plein air painting and all of its logistics, opening up a new world of painting experiences that I can’t wait to try when this heat finally returns to hell where it belongs.

And none of them told me I was holding my brush wrong. Instead, each of them added rich dimension to my experience as an artist. They did not ruin me, they helped me. They each gave me something important. I didn’t have to think hard to write the above summary of what I learned, it was all still right there.

Just like all great learning institutions, the WVAL General Meeting always takes summers off. But we start back up in September with an artist I know pretty well, and I’m excited to see what the rest of the Fall meetings bring.

If you’ve been reticent to come, I get it. Really I do. But get over it and meet us at 6:30 pm at the Community Center on September 11th. Don’t let The Lie keep you away. You’ll be a better artist for it, I promise.

Before I go I want to thank all the artists, past and future, who contribute to these meetings. It’s not easy at all to put together a talk like this and open yourself up this way. And I especially want to thank Steve Shellenberger and his tireless, seamless efforts in scheduling so many brilliant artists to share themselves with us. I hope you will too, because he makes this happen.

*There is no such thing.


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