14 Dec Mending Walls – Riding Fences – & The Courage to Paint What You Feel
I remember the day that I first read Robert Frost’s Mending Wall. That was when I first realized that fences have at least two purposes: they can either keep critters inside a fenced area, or they might serve to keep critters outside a fenced area.
Ozarks Fence Row – Jacki Kellum Watercolor
Painted December 13, 2018
We have all driven past farms and have seen cattle or horses restrained within a fenced area. I would say that is a situation where critters are being held inside a designated area.
Jacki Kellum Garden Gate in New Jersey
But when I am at home, I love my privacy. For years, I have built privacy fences around my gardens. That is an example of fencing critters or other people out.
Jacki Kellum Deck and Wall Garden in Harrison, Arksas
Either way, I believe it is safe to say that a fence is a line–it is a demarcation–it is a division. On one side, there are the in’s and on the other side, there are the out’s. In most cases, I don’t like rigidness. People who only see life as in versus out 0r radical versus conservative or black versus white make me nervous. I recognize that there are many gray areas in living, but that is not to say that I advocate a life of always riding the fence.
Fence Riders compromise on every issue. They seem to have no real opinions of their own. People without opinions are like piles of mashed potatoes. Mashed-Potato-People have had the life boiled and whipped completely out of themselves, and they like to play it safe by tending to ride the fence on every issue.
Life is not lived on the fence. We must have opinions. In daring to have opinions and to voice those opinions, our lives can be differentiated from the faceless mob. The only way to be meaningful in life is to let your life mean–to let it actually stand–to let it stand out, and to let it stand for something that represents yourself, as an individual. I find this to be especially true in art.
My painting style is a little bit edgy. My painting strokes tend to be bold and free, and at least once in every painting day, I fight myself to prevent myself from over-painting my subject matter, When I paint the life out of my paintings, I do so not because I feel that my painting needs more work but because I feel that my viewers need more explanation. In other words, something within me wants to over-work my art because I want my work to be liked. That is a type of fear. That is a type of fence riding. It is a type of standing in the middle of the road, and fortunately, I realize that in painting, standing in the middle of the road yields boring, lifeless paintings.
Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides. – Margaret Thatcher
If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.– Margaret Thatcher
“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” – Abraham Lincoln
Herein lies the key: If you try to please all of the people all of the time with your painting, you yourself have elected to stand for nothing concrete. To stand for something is to get off the fence and to get out of the middle of the road and to dare to be yourself. In painting, this is how an artist’s style evolves.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my students said to me that she had been cruising the Internet, looking at one watercolor painting after another, and when she saw one random painting, she thought: “That looks like a Jacki Kellum painting.” After that, she clicked on the image, and it was my painting. It has taken years, but I have finally painted myself into a style that is recognizably my own, and that has happened because I have dared to get off the fence and to paint the way that I feel. I call this painting by intuition.
When it comes to painting, I recommend that the painter get off the fence and t0 paint exactly the way that he wants to paint and not to paint the way that he believes that people want him to paint.
I also recommend that painters get over their own demands of themselves that every painting be a success. This is especially true of painting in watercolor. My watercolors are loose and carefree and they often have a mind of their own. I like some of my own watercolor paintings better than others, but I have ceased treating painting as a precious activity that I should try to overly control. I simply paint and after I paint, I place the paintings on a shelf. Time will ultimately determine the fate of most of my paintings. I am fully aware that especially in watercolor, I am not the artist. I am simply the vessel through which my art pours.
When you paint, remember these things:
- You are not painting to be liked by the web or by anyone else. You are painting to be liked by yourself–to learn to live with yourself.
- Painting is a way to spend time with yourself–and to Hear Yourself Think. After hearing yourself, paint what you are hearing.
- Painting is a way of Learning to See.
- Look into your mind’s eyes and see the images that best exemplify your thoughts,
- Allow Your Intuition to Paint What You See–Through Yourself.
- Simply Allow the Rest of the Chips to Fall Where They May.
“I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.” – Gilbert Keith Chesterton
In closing, allow me to tell you a bit more about Robert Frost’s poem The Mending Wall. It is a poem about Fences, and the words suggest that the poet is in favor of fences — of walling others out. The words are repeated: Fences Make Good Neighbors,” but in context, we understand that Frost is saying those words rather satirically. The speaker’s neighbor believes that fences make good neighbors. But in the speaker’s opinion, walls are unnatural. The speaker observes that every year, the stone fences between him and his neighbor naturally fall apart–that the animals tear them down–and that they simply move out of position. In response, the speaker and his neighbor ceremoniously meet each spring–each on their own sides of the fence row–t0 replace the stones that have fallen from the wall.