I grew up with art, was surrounded by it, breathed it. My father is an art dealer, so our house became an annex for his San Francisco art gallery. At ten I took a book of Bruegel etchings from his bookshelf and began the laborious task of copying the images. If you are not familiar with Brueghel, his works are similar to Hieronymus Bosch, lots of strange little characters with animal heads and creepy figures crawling out of eggs. It is a child’s dream (nightmare) of strange creatures and imagination. I still love his work.
It was then that I decided to be an artist, to draw great works. Not painting, drawing, I loved the line and shading. So I continued copying other artists and kept it up until high school. By this time in my life I’d probably been to more museums and art galleries than all my classmates combined. But something inside fizzled. I didn’t want to be an artist anymore; the fire had burned itself out.
Don’t get me wrong, I still loved art, always will. It’s like a second blood supply for me. But the fire to create it had gone out. During this same period, I had been reading, reading a lot, fiction and science fiction mostly. There wasn’t really such a thing as young adult fiction at this time. There were just books that were a little easier for teenagers to read. I would find a writer that I liked, then consume every book he or she wrote. Clark, Asimov, Heinlein, H. G. Wells, Bradbury, Maugham, Golding, Salinger, and many more. I didn’t realize it at the time, but all those words sunk in, shaped my mind and eventually, my desire to create.
Strangely enough, I studied business in college. Oh it was tedious and awful as you would expect for an art lover. To make it bearable, I took lots of literature classes, Shakespeare, poetry – no business students in there. In my junior year, just as I was ready to drop out, I received a letter inviting me into the foreign exchange program. I grabbed it like a life-preserver to a drowning student, and spent my final year studying in Copenhagen, Denmark, then traveling around Europe. Wonderful experience, I recommend it to all students, drowning or not.
What a crazy thing life is, somehow everything comes around to be exactly what it was supposed to be from the beginning. After college, I followed in my father’s steps, becoming an art dealer and later a gallery owner. During this time, I wrote lots of things, mostly business related stuff, copy for ads and PR. Then I tried my hand at essays. I was invited by the editor of the Aspen Daily News to write a weekly column about art. I was given plenty of rope with which to hang myself.
I have never studied writing, had only a general idea about journalism. But why should that stop me. Unafraid, I just wrote about what I thought would be interesting. The articles were stupid sometimes, one was about art that had killed people (falling sculptures and poisonous paint), but sometimes it was very deep, a two part article about the Nazi plundering of artwork in Europe. I got plenty of good feedback, people liked my stories and I kept it up for about two years. Then the pressures of time and the demands of my art gallery forced me to quit.
But I didn’t stop writing. Fiction has always been my love. Sure, I love great science fiction, but my real love is 19th (and early 20th) Century literature, Dickens, Tolstoy, Melville, Falkner, Twain, Hugo, Kafka and dozens of other. It is difficult sometimes, paragraphs that span pages, descriptions that go into minute detail, but they are always rich with meaning and discovery. These giants could write. Great literature is the equivalent of seeing a great painting. That sigh that is released from your soul when you realize you are witnessing genius.
So here I am, putting the two things together, art and writing. Sure, I could write about art, I still do that, but that is not really what I mean. Art has taught me how to see, how to imagine a scene, the characters, the situation unfolding in my mind. When I write, I literally see everything happening in the story and just describe it on paper. Many readers have commented how visual my writing is. I don’t see how it could be otherwise, that’s where it comes from.
Like I said earlier, life has a way of putting us on the path meant for us. I guess I should have gotten a degree in literature, studied writing, but it didn’t happen that way. I learned to write by reading (still do) and how to see by viewing and making art. Regrets are for the dead. This is how it is and I’m grateful I get to do what I love.
Even if it took a few extra decades…
Fantastic sentiment. Couldn’t agree more.
Jay Magidson said: