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The Sargent Can Sing



Recently I went to see the John Singer Sargent exhibition of watercolor paintings at the Brooklyn Museum. I was told by some friends to go check it out. This was not on my radar because I am art illiterate. Upon going, what I saw was hard for me to comprehend. At points, some images appeared to be photographs until I got up close and saw they were in fact paintings. There were things I thought were oil paintings until I realized they were watercolors. There were pastel pieces that turned out to be oil paintings. He seemed not to follow any rules of watercolor purists. If he felt like slopping oil paint right on top of his watercolor painting to make it look better, he did. In his new book, The Greater Journey by David McCullough, there is a large section about the career of Sargent. It at least allowed me to know that he was one of the greatest painters of all time. Standing in the middle of the museum, I realized something. I don't know how to look at paintings in museums and learn much of anything from the experience. After looking at 10 paintings, I'm burnt out, confused and befuddled. My friend Butch Belair only took up painting a few years ago and is now,in my estimation, a master. He accomplished this feat by studying, reading books and manuals, watching tutorials and voraciously accumulating as much knowledge about the subject as humanly possible. This is the direct opposite of what I do. Deep down, I wish I could be like that but something inside me prevents me doing so. I'm not sure what it is. There is a mental block that I've carried with me since I was a little kid. I putter along with my own trial and error trying to improve as an artist but I don't attempt to expand my talent by reaching out for other people's knowledge. Butch talks about different techniques and the use of glazes and whatnot and I'm lost at what he is saying. In the film, "Amadeus", Salieri is Mozart's rival. It's just that Mozart is so far superior to him, he realizes he is no real rival to him at all. Salieri is so knowledgeable about music though, that he, more than anyone else, can hear, experience and observe just how great Mozart is. It becomes like a curse. When I watch the movie, I actually envy Salieri. It must be amazing to know so much about a subject that when you, as opposed to the average Joe, experience that subject, your head just absorbs it all like a sponge. Which comes back to me. As I stood before Sargent's paintings, it wasn't the paintings I was thinking about, but Butch Belair. It must be amazing to be in Butch's head standing in this room because all I am drawing is a blank. I want to change. At my age, it's scary though. I always feel embarrassed and stupid. The kid who is afraid to raise his hand and ask the teacher for help. On the upside though, is the realization that maybe the first step is to look in the mirror and admit to myself that I do need help to break this pattern of behavior. I hope I can. It might even make me a better artist.
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