There once was a painter who tried to paint sunflowers. No, not van Gogh. Different time, different place, different person. But, sunflowers and painting- those things they had in common. Why sunflowers? I think it’s because their proportions echo those of a human face and hair, even stature in some varieties. This leads to all manner of anthropomorphism on the part of the artist and/or viewer. But I could be wrong about that, and anyway, back to our fairy tale.
The first sunflower was painted at the end of year’s harvest. Late in the season, late in the day, and late in the lifespan of the particular flower. It had promise, as do all things that a painter starts without much hope of actually finishing. But on the second day, the painter entered the studio to find the flower slumped lifelessly over the lip of the vase, bleeding pollen all over the table. It was a sad and grizzly scene. The picture was stopped, and a brief memorial conducted.
The painter waited patiently for the following season to begin. She had not been working steadily over this year, but eventually heard the call of the sunflower and decided it was as good a place to start as any. This is where a fairy godmother or enigmatic fellow traveler would’ve come in really handy, for danger loomed: The painter still carried the promise of last year’s picture in her heart, but her hand and eye had not received the memo.
She was in the proverbial soup as soon as brush touched pallet. The picture tried to start where the first had left off. Such a thing is impossible, as any picture, painter, or fairy tale will tell you. You need to start at the beginning, not at the end. So this effort, too, came to naught.
The painter remembered, though, all those things that she’d been learning, unlearning and relearning for most of her life. She remembered about beginnings, about expectations. She remembered that tidbit dispensed liberally by art teachers, that an artist who is struggling is making the most progress, learning the most, but an artist who is comfortable isn’t challenging themselves. Ah, how many art school suicides were prevented by the clenched-teeth repetition of these words.
So the painter sighed, tossed the panel over her shoulder, and started again. The third sunflower was, as sunflowers go, perfect. In fact, it was too perfect. It reminded her a bit of that movie quote that’s been used so much, no one knows where it came from anymore: “It’s quiet…” says the cop/criminal/kidnapper/kidnapped/cowboy. “…too quiet.” And so it was with the perfection of the third sunflower. Its petals were evenly spaced and lush, its coloring vivid and consistent. It would’ve won a blue ribbon at a flower show. But in this story we are in a studio. Beauty is not wanted here, nor is perfection. They are boring. They are governed by regularity in form that’s rare and therefore enviable in the human world. But, like anything that is smooth, even and perfect, there’s nowhere to hang your stuff. Your interest glides off of it, like a hat being hung on a wall with no hooks.
The painter tried. Day after day (for this flower had longevity as well as beauty), she painted in and painted out and scraped and repainted and tried to find the hook of it. While the first sunflower had defeated her with its premature demise, this one used immortality. The petals remained firm and high. Its perkiness was well in place while the painter drove her picture on, drove it past the exit marked “Stop Now”, and plunged headfirst into the Terminal Gulch of Cuteness.
And there it lies to this day.
(But the painter thought the outline of the bottle the flower stood in was interesting, so next week she’s going to try painting that.)