Bacigalupa's CASA BACI

"Should I Study Art?"

The recurrent, if to me irrelevant, question

I hear it much too often, exposed as I am to frequent visitors to my studio/shop open to the public. Young or old, male or female, the gallery-goer who lingers longer than usual before my paintings and sculpture at our home-business on Santa Fe's Canyon Road will eventually break silence with that opener I dread hearing -- "I envy you so much." And the follow-up: "I've always wanted to study art. Should I?"

You look into their eyes, these youngsters still in college, the middle-aged matrons whose children have flown the nest, the retired gentlemen uncomfortable with new-found leisure, even those in the prime of life, dissatisfied with professions or employment, wanting something more. All suspecting that life in the arts is better, will provide the opportunity to "find,""express" themselves. Most are romantics, having conventional and often false ideas of "the artist's life." And are intimidated, if not frightened by that life, but also tempted to risk abandonment of certainities and securities to plunge into the world of self-expression.

My wife's and my shop The Studio of Gian Andrea is the oldest exhibiting gallery on Canyon Road (the Art and Soul of Santa Fe, as other romantics like to call it), having been at the same address for more than 40 years. I much enjoy many of the tourists who come in, have had numerous provocative conversations with a goodly number, acquired significant commissions from individuals who entered the door as strangers, have made life-long friends with some of them. And over the long years have learned to recognize shared characteristics of different types of people, can often anticipate how certain ones will behave, what they'll say. And am rarely wrong when assuming that Yes, here's another about to ask THE QUESTION.

For too long I squandered precious time evaluating the query, probing each questioner why he/she wanted to study art, asking if they did any painting or sculpture, seeking clues to the strength of their desire. For most it was obvious that the lady dripping pearls had no serious intent of relinquishing comfort for the vagaries and torments of canvas or clay, the distinguished gentleman in law or medicine no ambition in art beyond a casual indulgence in Sunday painting, the restless peripatetics and dilettantes merely seeking one more milieu in which they hoped to find sustaining interest and fulfillment. Over time I developed a routine but truthful spiel on the negatives in the lives of artists: the punishing hard work, the financial insecurities not only while building a reputation but later during droughts when work does not sell, the social isolation because of absorption with work as well as widespread apprehension of artists by laymen. Most of all, the repeated rejections by dealers and public, the necessity to nurture a thick hide against the slings and arrows of critics or a public resistant to originality, threatened by anthing new. And with any kind of modest success, the jealousy and resentment which even the closest of competing colleagues and often family members themselves cannot suppress. And, of course, the element of luck. Without it, the most talented of painters and sculptors, writers, musicians, actors and dancers of the performing arts often go unrecognized. Usually, the exposition quickly wins the day. Questions cease, amenities of farewell are exchanged, and the visitor leaves.

It is to the occasional young person, intelligent, sure of his or her gift but in anguish about making the decision to pursue the arts, that I cannot offer a pat argument against it. They seem unable to leave the studio, carefully studying everything, caressing the small sculptures (i.e., the bronze Chiara at left), their comments sensitively astute. Each such youth, obviously talented and with a fairly good chance of succeeding as an artist, has given me pause. How to advise them? Or anyone, really, about anything? Dilemma must be solved by each of us, alone, from somewhere deep within our innards.

They made me think, though, about my own decision regarding the arts, and over time I found my answer for them. My answer, and it may not serve well anyone else. But I realized that I never had a choice, never had to make a decision. I was drawing, coloring, telling stories to small friends even before I entered the first grade. Reprimands from elders to get outdoors and play -- abandon pencils, paper and crayons, desert books (for I was already hooked on them, too) -- got nowhere. Through childhood and teens, classmates and neighborhood chums taunted that I was not like them, that I was "different." And though that was hurtful, it did not persuade me to change. Nor did envious resentment or hostility when my high-school writings broke print, or the first drawings and paintings won recognition. With marriage, children and all the accountability and sacrifice which that entails, I never regretted the inroads on studio-time demanded by family life; and even when employment in other disciplines to supplement income from art was necessary, I cut back on hours abed, worked in the studio until midnight, was usually awake before dawn for a few more hours work before leaving home for a job. Many of my married colleagues with large talents abandoned the arts because of relentless stress, some of my unmarried fellow-artists walked away from painting or sculpture because, they said, they worked for approbation which did not and never would come. I wasn't once tempted to follow them.

And eventually -- full realization was slow in coming -- I knew that I had not and never had had a choice. If not obsessed by the need to do creative work, I nevertheless had a compulsion for it which absolutely couldn't be reined except (God forbid) by failing health or physical impairment. So my answer to the ubiquitous question was simple: if you're not compelled to, don't go into the arts; and without that compulsion, you don't even have a question, at least not at this time; with the compulsion, you won't ask anything, you'll just be driven to do.

Now in late life, some of my peers, bored with idleness, with left-over-life to kill, say they envy me. "No matter what happens, you have your work, continue to turn to it even when life's most savage. You're BLESSED." I know that.

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