“To be an enthusiast had become her social vocation and, sometimes even when she did not feel like it, she became enthusiastic in order not to disappoint the expectations of those who knew her.”*
(pictured above and below, sharing the art of George Rodrigue with Baton Rouge students during a drawing workshop last weekend at the LSU Museum of Art)
“What are your credentials?” asked a Louisiana artist recently, as I interviewed him for an essay for The Bicentennial History of Art in Louisiana.*
Ironically, the question offended George but merely distracted me, as I rattled off a few boring bits of bio, steering our exchange as quickly as possible back to my subject.
“I apologize,” I admitted at one point, “but I tend to relate all art to George Rodrigue and our discussions, because that’s my world.”
I took on these essays, only a small number of the hundreds within the book, not only out of genuine interest, but also in hopes of calming some local artistic and awkward karma. I’ve written before about jealousy in the art world, about the difficulty I have in seeing it and understanding it. In truth, I believe that any artist’s success is a success for all artists, and I’m as pleased to hear of a big sale on Julia Street, at Sotheby's, or on the fence at Jackson Square as I am with one at the Rodrigue Gallery.
That said, I can’t help but take criticism of George’s artwork to heart, despite his own indifference. It’s the reason I no longer work on the gallery floor. I strike at critics with defensive cat claws, regretting it later, and wishing I’d thought before speaking.
This month marks two years of "Musings of an Artist’s Wife," a place where we celebrate the art and life of George Rodrigue. In the same way people stopped asking George years ago, “Don’t you get tired of painting the same thing over and over?,” they stopped asking me months ago, “What happens when you run out of things to write?”
(pictured, On My Master's Grave, 1990)
If you follow George’s work, and certainly if you follow this blog, you know that his art is as interesting and varied as his life. The Blue Dog paintings today look different than five years ago or ten years ago or twenty, in the same way artists might develop their landscapes or portraits (ironically also true of George Rodrigue).
(pictured, A Basket of Joy, 2011, 24x20 inches, finished just this week-)
George the artist taught me about writing, a form of expression imbued with forethought.
“The key,” explains the Blue Dog Man, “is to please no one but yourself. If a few others like it, all the better. But if you paint or write their ideas (for you), as opposed to your own, you hold yourself back, and over time, people rarely remember the gesture anyway.”
I thought of this often over the past few months as University of Louisiana at Lafayette fans questioned George’s recent enthusiasm for LSU.
“Why don’t you support your home school, ULL?” they ask, as I remind them gently of his dedication to that university over the years.
“It’s impossible to please everyone,” George reassures me, as I answer with overzealousness an angry letter from a man wondering why we ignore north Louisiana, even as we head to Shreveport for an exhibition and series of events later this week.
Simultaneously, I watch George at his easel, breaking his own rule. Without question, he paints to please himself ninety percent of the time, such as Sunny James (36x36, below), finished last month.
Yet within that other ten percent lies, for example, a recent commission to paint a ULL administrator’s portrait, a project without an appealing artistic challenge, but an important challenge nonetheless, a shift in motivation, as the resulting money benefits GRFA’s programs, providing bigger scholarships and art supplies to Louisiana’s students and schools. In other words, occasionally it’s worth the compromise.
(pictured: a happy George Rodrigue paints and watches to please himself, last night in New Orleans)
As a model, as a muse, and as the author of self-indulgent dribble (who almost quit weeks in when a reader commented, “Get over yourself, Wendy”), I do believe we each have a duty --- to God, to fate, to karma, or perhaps most important, to ourselves --- to follow our passions.
With that in mind, I established this week a public Facebook page. I hope you’ll join me for not only updates from Musings and Gambit, but also assorted photographs, ideas, links to other artists, other writers, and … your feedback.
*from Tolstoy's War and Peace, 1869
*The Bicentennial History of Louisiana is a 375-page, full color volume edited by Michael Sartisky of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and Rick Gruber, formerly of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, printed in New Orleans by Garrity Press in 2012, as we celebrate Louisiana’s statehood bicentennial. I am honored to be a minor contributor within this ambitious and important project.