Have you noticed the rise of all the Bottles and Brush type businesses, offering a fun, easy painting experience over a glass or two or three of wine? These places are literally overflowing with drunken, brush wielding Van Gogh wannabees having great fun. What once was the sacred realm of the talented elite has now been democratized, resulting in self expression for all, which BTW, is something I have always supported. After all, why should all the creative fun be in the hands of the 1% who are “serious” about their art?
One of my goals has always been to take the pressure of genius out of the equation of self expression. For the last thirty years, I believed I had found a sure-fire way to guarantee success by simplifying and quantifying the methods of the masters. I called this process “The Power of Positive Painting,” the premise being that if you learned a few basic concepts about value and observational drawing you could then become the master of your own creativity and along the way, find your unique voice as an artist. Talent be damned! I defined art as that amazing thing that happens while we are focusing on a simple structure. In fact I wrote a book, called Point of Art,
about how self-expression is not only healthy for the soul, but an inalienable right for all people.
For years I was known as the guy who could turn anyone with an open mind and a willingness to put out a little effort into a successful artist. I’ve coaxed photo realists and abstract expressionists into being, focusing on teaching only simple, concrete elements, never imposing my style or tastes on anyone. I’m proud to say I’ve trained quite a number of professional artists, with whom many I now compete (I really should be holding back some of my best secrets, but I just can’t myself!). I have also opened many doors for people who didn’t believe they could ever make real art. This has always been the thrill of teaching for me. In fact it has been something of a life mission.
Somewhere along the line, however, I started to become known as the “serious” teacher, the one who will break you down, old-school style. “Stay away from Rob, unless you are serious about this art business.” I’m not really sure how this perception has been altered. My believe that art can and should be accessible to everyone has not changed.
Which brings us back to the question of how to explain the growing popularity of this drink and paint business model. They are successfully pulling in 30-40 people, day in and day out, painting away, usually a very simple, not always very compelling graphic image. It reminds me a little of the Bill Alexander method (Bob Ross’s predecessor), who famously quipped, “I teach people how to make a painting you might pay $25 for at a garage sale,” or something to that effect. There is little being offered in the way of method, inquiry or individual intention; it is simply rote painting. Everyone is painting the same thing at the same time. The host reassures you, “just do what I do and no one will be disappointed.” You are guaranteed to go home with pretty much the same painting as the friend who dared you to come, all with the aid of a few stiff drinks to chase the intimidating art goblins away. I think the key to success for this model is that they have virtually eliminated the risk of failure.
It is a breakdown in my marketing that potential students fear having to confront the possibility of failure in my classes. Although I do agree the only way to do anything extraordinary in the creative realm is to risk failure, my solution to this dilemma has been to neutralize ego, which is the part of us that registers whether something we do is a success or a failure. Picasso himself said it best, “I leave my ego at the door when I paint.” In my classes I focus on creating an inspiring space to explore and see and try new things in a safe, critic-free environment where the shear joy of self-expression can flourish.
So who are all these not-so-serious, wine drinking art spirits and why aren’t they painting with me? After all, aren’t these the same people I have been working miracles with over the last thirty years? My father used to say, “there is the right way to do something, and then there is the easy way.” I sincerely believe, perhaps naively, that with a little concrete method to back us up we humans are capable of much more than we might otherwise believe ourselves capable. I say, “teach a man to fish, rather than show him how to paint this particular fish.” Not that I am in any way discouraging people from enjoying the experience of a fun night of painting while intoxicated. There is a lovely social element that is very gratifying. And I’m always in favor of any excuse to throw some paint around. But without the risk of failure, however slight I can make it, I suspect perhaps the possibility of accomplishment might be missing from the experience.
Now, I will tell you I have on occasion painted under the influence. But I tend to avoid using drugs and alcohol while creating for a number of reasons. One being, I’m afraid I will come to depend on the feeling of being uninhibited. I say feeling because that’s what it is. I am under the influence of something external to me, an altered state. This altered state often feels heightened. But is it truly heightened, as in getting me closer to the truth deep inside me? This leads to the question of whether my getting to the truth is required for me to have a fun artsy experience.
In all fairness to famous geniuses like Richard Burton and Jim Morrison, who used drugs and alcohol to great affect, I have to admit that in my experience I have sometimes received a glimpse of something true that I could not see while sober. But in the process I have noticed I am also giving up something else that is equally important: a certain clarity of vision that makes the idea powerful and coherent. I have discovered (and shared) over the years a number of mind tricks that create a similar sense of altered reality without the use of external stimulants.
So what’s the upshot of all this? I say do whatever you need to do to get to the place where you are self-expressed, where you are enjoying your God-given right to explore the joy of creation. Hopefully, these wine drinking painting orgies are a gateway for more people to discover their creative selves. But whatever you do, may you find a new way to do it, a way you’d never thought was practical, a way that brings you closer to the joy of connecting to the universe of possibilities.