Painted in the style of W.G. – the artist in the story below.
There are an untold amount of sentences that can be spoken which stir the very soul of us all.
Many statements can be made into a sentence that makes a difference in our lives, change our lives forever more; once we hear it and understand it, internalize it into our own heart, we are never the same.
Here is a story of how my friend said one of the most important simple sentences about being an artist I have ever heard in my life. Ever!
W.G. is now a friend of mine; even though he is 20 years my senior we had met briefly and worked only professionally when designing for Disney Imagineering during the EPCOT years.
W.G. had written and sold a screenplay for a bundle of money, the kind you can just about retire on. His script got filmed and became a big Hollywood hit. W.G. stopped working and slowly over a decade he used up the money being an artist and writing other works in hopes of a second hit.
So, after some years, he found a need to return to work about the time his friends were all retiring. That is when I ran into him again as he was working on the same project as I; actually, he had thrown my name into the hiring hat.
We were both retained to work on a project for the Olympic Village in Korea. The work was done in the L.A. area and W.G. lived there on the west coast while I live in the upper midwest. So I was traveling out to L.A. and needing a place to stay for several months during the project. W.G. offered me a room for rent in his North Hollywood home, as he was now living alone because his family and most of his money had moved on to, well, that is another story.
We traveled to work together and spent many lunch and supper hours talking art and design. We went to the harbors on photo missions to get material for painting ships and sail boats. Looked into every art show that we could get to. W.G. Introduced me to other artists; mostly older, mostly retired, mostly still struggling even after very successful years of work.
Each day was both different and the same. The work was always new and challenging, and W.G. had to drag himself through it. He is gifted, talented beyond fairness, funny, a great writer, illustrator, and comic. But he had become lethargic. Was this age? No, he had more than enough energy when we went places. He is overweight by twice, but I could hardly keep up. He talked and joked and had a great time, until Monday. I loved Monday because I loved the work. He hated Monday and Tuesday and … and he, too, loved the work. It was a puzzle.
A good friend and mentor to W.G. was a fellow named Bill. Bill was eighty when I first met him. He had worked as an illustrator for all the great magazines in the 20s, 30s, and became a studio set designer in the 40s along with Herby Ryman of Disney fame! We stopped once a week for Mexican food. Bill had been doing this for two decades, mentoring and befriending my friend W.G., as W.G. was now doing to me; I was privileged to join them every week while I was out there. Bill said, don’t come unless you bring a sketch book and use it. Draw, draw, draw. He did, and W.G. did and so I did, too. They were really, really, really good; I was learning.
W.G. would then grumble to Bill about work and having to work. Bill would echo and grumble back. He didn’t work any more, didn’t paint anymore, didn’t produce, but said he wished he would. Not wished he could, he wished he would. They told compelling stories for hours, late into the evening, even though we had to work the next day.
One night, W.G. focused it clearly: “I hate working for lesser talents, budget-driven projects and ego centric climbers. A profession littered with a confused self-image, using high skills accumulated over a lifetime, leveraged at a greatly reduced value just to get a seat at the table and to produce low demand processed outcomes. Just for the money, arrrg. Each job less than the last.”
I felt both sad and frightened. Frightened at perhaps seeing myself in a few decades.
Both W.G. and Bill saw my countenance fall; did I mention these were sensitive and caring people? Artists of the highest degree accomplished over a lifetime!
Bill said, “John, you don’t have to worry about this as long as you keep what you have now.” Silence befell our dinner table.
I thought, “What do I have that these two don’t have? Both have an entire work history in place; I have hardly started. They both have references to die for, portfolios of museum worthy images.
They count as friends people I have only read about, like Maxfield Parish, Norman Rockwell, Walt Disney. Both have illustrated for the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Fisk, and half a dozen others. Bill has painted the portraits of at least two presidents. I had only a couple small feathers and no hat to stick them in. This was nearly thirty years ago; I was forty two and W.G. was sixty two then, and Bill was eighty. They had already worked through the end of the halcyon days of great artists and illustrators, before I was even born.
I offered up my opinion, “W.G., you have a direct inroad to publishing another hit script, why don’t you just do that? And Bill, you mentioned your work is still in demand, why wouldn’t that give you pleasure. Why not just do that?”
“You’re both better than any of your competitors, young or old; this is work you can still do! With your experience, why don’t you just go and get those jobs and solve the problems? Why don’t you just do what you have to do and ….?”
Bill put up one finger to his lips…shhhh …, “John, If we had what you have, we would do that. Tell him, W.G………………..”
Here it comes, that special sentence……
W.G. turned to me and said, “It’s hard to go hunting when you have no one to bring the rabbits home to!”
It stunned me. This artist/writer had summed up all of society in one sentence.
The sadness and withdrawal of being alone; they never did any of it for themselves, they did it for moms and dads, wives and kids and friends, loved ones and on and on. When that is not there, what is? They could not do it for themselves, they knew this. I have pondered the power of this ever since. I have what they don’t, I have someone to bring the rabbits home to. They held that higher than all their talent and experience combined, and they knew how to lead me to find it. Mentoring is very powerful. It was a gift.
The most precious talent gift you can have, is to have and keep family and friends in your life. Then after a long day of hunting. you have someone to bring the rabbits home to. The rest is just practice and pigment.