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  • Jan Ayers Friedman

Why Do It?

Updated: Jan 11

When I was ten years old, I was diagnosed as being dramatically nearsighted. I didn't know any better because things at a distance had always been a blur. I recognized people by the way they walked- besides being a certain size and shade, everyone has particular mannerisms and postures. The same with differentiating cows and horses out the car window as it sped past a pasture. Dogs and cats walk and run differently.Teachers tended to alphabetize the students, and my last name put me right up front where, if I couldn't quite see the thin white chalk line, I could follow the lecture. My 20/200 vision just had not presented a problem that I hadn't found a way around: I paid attention to not to the way things looked, but at they way they acted. Their attitudes. That's what made things real.


What I could see was stuff up close. Nature. I could focus to within inches, like a human microscope, and would spent hours looking at dirt. You know it's not all dirt, right? There are fragments of seed hulls, each with a very specific hull pattern, and grains that fracture and erode differently because they're different minerals. There are remnants of skin that something left behind, and insect poop, and decayed roots and leaves... Paradise. I learned the feel of things. A granite stone feels different than the feldspar that is its main component. A hackberry hull is geometrically reticulated. A horny toad's belly feels as soft as silk, a crape myrtle bud explodes in a tiny mangled blossom if you squeeze it, and there are two types of photinia: one only stinks when it blooms, but the ones beside the driveway stink and also have a sharply serrated leaf that will take your skin off.


I can see now, of course. Today, I'm lasered and only wear readers because I'm old. But the beautiful details that I now cannot focus on without a magnifier still influence me and the things I make. The very intimate connection I developed to the natural world drives my choices. For example, learning to draw classically is important, and yes, I can do it. I need to go back and do more to keep it sharp. And I love and admire and respect those who choose to make their art photorealistic. It's astounding, and several friends have work that can take my breath away. But they can do that as well or better than me, so I don't need to. But what I CAN do that they don't is to think "what would happen if..." What would happen if I painted this with the feather grass clippings in my hand? What would happen if instead of Sennelier dry pigment in the egg tempera, I put garden soil? What would happen if instead of just drawing the tree canopy against the sky, I painted the aura that happens when the optic nerves get overstimulated by staring at the light? Or if I tried to reproduce in resin what I imagine the soul would look like? How it would become aware and reach upwards? Would it be able to touch something?


We do it because we want to see it. It also wants to manifest. It nags us until we just do it. Sometimes it works, sometimes nothing comes of it. Sometimes you love it and sing to it and breathe life into it and pretend it's a thing, and it's very brave and tries very hard, but in the end neither of you can take it anymore and it becomes something else.Gets broken down, painted over. Once I even loaded up three large canvases that I'd exhibited and had stored in a closet for years and I drove em straight to the dump and heaved them into a bin with broken tiles and tree clippings and I yelled "GOODBYE" and a woman in the truck next to me looked startled because Oh My that was ART but she smiled after all. She got it.


We have an idea that won't leave us alone, so we do it to make it hush. If we're lucky and have studied technique and know the rules of composition and have the right music downloaded into our ear buds, we get something we love. I do what I do because What If, and sometimes it works, so that now YOU know What If and might What If something of your own. That would make me happy, seeing yours. I would learn something. That's the point.



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