Sometimes these works reflect the reality of life for most painters but often authors use wildly and uncharacteristically successful painters as protagonists. These mythical artists are in huge demand and showing their work at the trendiest New York galleries. This bears a little resemblance to the life of most painters who struggle to simply keep working throughout their adult lives and managing to communicate their work to an audience.
One writer who has managed to use a painter as a an example of how it is to make paintings and present them to the wider world, is Roxanna Robinson. In her book Cost she describes the moment when the painter protagonist has just entered the gallery where her latest work is being shown. This rather long but brilliant excerpt effectively captures the experience of an artist, especially a female artist, on showing her work.
The paintings stood their ground, made their claims, said their pieces. What was it she had meant to do? Was this it? This role of coloured panels; these flat bright things hanging against the plaster walls? Now looked at from a distance, it might be failure again. There had been something else, something quick and liquid, something deeper. That was what she had been trying for, she’d wanted to make a large bright place, larger, more radiant more frightening than here, but like it. These were only awkward, shorthand comments, incomplete versions of the larger thing. She had failed, as always; she’d comes nowhere near the mark. She would have to stand here and listen people offer kind words about work, a low drone of pity thudding through the false congratulations.
She could not change things. The pictures were done, they were up on the walls, they were presenting themselves to the world. She had failed maybe, but maybe not. Maybe what she was trying for could not be achieved. She had come as close, perhaps, as she could, as anyone could, given the limits, right now, of herself. All she could do was make things come close, as close as she could get them, to the real thing.
Actually, they were close to what she had wanted to say. There was the work to be judged, and there she was, accepting authourship. What she hoped was that people would see her intentions, that she was striving for that bright, liquid, melting thing. Now she felt full of alarmed anticipation. And also full of pleasure: it was an honour to be a part of this dialogue about art & beauty & value. Everything was near-misses wasn’t it? Fail. Fail again. Fail better. Suddenly she felt deliriously happy, inflated & buoyant with pleasure, simply to have the opportunity to participate in the great discourse.
There was nothing you could believe about your work from other people, nothing. Praise sounded false; criticism, mean. Everything was biased, of course, there was nothing objective about responses to art. There were a few friends you could trust to tell you the truth, but it was only their truths. Nothing to make certain your place in the world of art. You had to find it yourself and then make it your home. You had to create your own balance your own certainty. No one else knew what you were trying to do. You had to find your own faith. You have to stand up for it against the assaults of logic and fear and the articulations of the whole critical world. You had to close your eyes to everything else, repeating your personal creed, reminding your self of what you were doing, why you were doing it.”