JamesTanoniToday I am grateful for the gift of recognition. I have worked hard over my 38 year career and been richly rewarded in what may seem to the outside world a very storied career. While the stories have not always been pretty or pleasant, I am no less grateful to those who have made this crazy, creative journey possible.

I am a portrait artist. I am an artist. The work I have devoted my life to is meaningful and it has touched so many lives.

But this portrait of James haunts me today. This beautiful little boy, who I painted at such a tender age, took his life yesterday at the hands of the evil scourge of drugs. I think about what possible purpose a silly portrait from 20 years ago might serve to those of us struggling to make sense of such a bitter loss, to connect to a long lost yet somehow always better past. It only makes me weep. Of course this horrific event is not about me or my art. There is no way to express how these two are in any way connected. But it humbles me today to think about it.

I also think about that ridiculous, illusory, absurd specter called “fame.” This monster I have pursued for so many years, not for glory mind you, but in the hope I may somehow be able to put enough food on the table for my family or perhaps enjoy the honor of using my talents to eek out some tender bit of meaning from the chaos that is this world.

I think about the many other unsung heroes, equally valiant and deserving in their pursuit. I know the names of people you will never know, whom I have had the great pleasure of knowing, who have devoted their lives to their art, who have achingly asked whether this element in their composition, if moved slightly to the left, might somehow better their painting, or who’ve struggled nobly over finding just the right word to say precisely what is burning in their heart, as if their very life depended on the answer.

How easily our songs are sung and yet how swiftly the quiet can come. Those who achieve success today may one day be a forgotten footnote in a book no one will ever read. But still we go on, hoping for that one moment of connection, one being to another. Our art is the vehicle on which we “trouble deaf heaven with [our] bootless cries.”

I can say from experience that the human need for creative expression is not some personal indulgence that can be satisfied by going to the movies or watching TV or showing up at a painting party or living vicariously off the blood and sweat of other creatives. It is something that must be expressed and experienced first hand — full immersion. For many of us, it is a matter of survival itself.

Creativity is a double edged sword, of course. It may seem to hurt you even as it is healing you. The benefit of all the effort may seem small against the cost. But it is a process, much like healing or mourning. Each step must be respected, accepted and appreciated for what it is. I know I can say without hesitation, if not for my creative release, I would not be alive today. At a certain point, the question, “is anybody out there,” is hardly worth the asking.

So as I struggle to transition into some other, perhaps more reliable livelihood, walk some other path along the way, I want to thank all those who have supported me over the years in my crazy schemes. I know I have fought the good fight, “bloody but unbowed.” And as I move forward, the timber of the battle may change, but the spirit behind the work I have dedicated my very being to accomplish, will go on. If I die in obscurity, I will not have died in vein. I will leave a legacy of work for future generations to embrace or cast aside as they see fit. For I have always ever done my work only to please my higher self and my most high God.

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