True Cost of Art

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There’s just no other way of saying it: art is a total waste of time. Now before you fire off that letter to the editor, please finish reading this column. At the end, I believe you too will agree with my conclusion. But first, let’s look at why I believe art of any kind is a total waste of not only time, but also money.

During those seven years growing up on Flamingo Street, my mom had many art projects she spent time working on. The earliest form of art I can remember her being passionate about was pottery.

It seemed like every flat surface in our home had at least one of Mom’s homemade ashtrays adorning it. I didn’t like the shape or color of any of them, but mom being a smoker, I could understand why she made ashtrays. What I couldn’t understand is why, after quitting smoking, she continued making those ugly ashtrays.

She’d spend at least an hour a day in the outbuilding Dad had built to hold all her clay making equipment. Dad had power run out to the building for air-conditioning/heating, lights, and firing her kiln. He spent a lot of money doing all that just so Mom could make ashtrays, vases, and all our hand and footprints out of clay.

It was a total waste of money. At least that’s what I heard Dad saying many times, but not around Mom, of course. At seven years old, I agreed with him. Art was a waste of not only time but also money.

After she was finished with her pottery phase, Mom got into water painting. So much so, Dad converted the sunroom into an art studio outfitted with special lighting. Mom would spend at least an hour a day painting canvas, cleaning brushes, and staining frames.

One day I asked her what she was doing, and she replied, “I’m using watercolors to paint.” Now I had no idea how anyone could make a painting out of water, but our mom sure did. She painted red birds, trees, plants, cats and dogs, and even us kids.

It took two years, but on every wall in our house there were no less than ten of her paintings hanging. Dad spent hours every weekend working in his garden, and for most of it he mumbled how much money was being wasted on Mom’s art projects.

Working alongside him in the garden hearing his complaints, I agreed with him. I couldn’t see the reason why Mom painted so many pictures of red birds — one should be enough. Dad was right. Making pottery and painting was a big waste of time and money.

There are many more forms of art expression than just making pottery or painting with watercolors. I have a friend who spends an inordinate amount of time and money restoring old cars and trucks. Another makes outdoor sculptures and wind gauges out of scrap metal. A friend in our neighborhood has converted half his garage into a makeshift woodworking shop. He can make anything out of wood. His specialty is wooden bowls.

Each of the folks above considers what they do to be art. All a colossal waste of time and money. At least that’s what I thought when I was a younger man. Now I know better.

With age comes wisdom, and for me, also a great appreciation of all forms of art. Years ago, The Wife dragged me kicking and screaming to an art museum, just like Mom did every year when I lived back on Flamingo Street. But unlike then, I was surprised to find it was a truly enjoyable experience.

I could finally understand the time, talent, and yes, money it took to mix paint into a spectacular scene on canvas, chisel a form out of a block of marble, or bend metal to one’s will.

Just like Mom so many years ago, I now spend countless hours each week working on my art. I devote my time toward transforming words into stories, turning plain wood into simulated marble and stone, and working in the flower garden around our house.

So, what ever happened to all that artwork Mom made back on Flamingo? Sadly, over time it has all been lost … or so I thought. Last week The Wife and I were sorting through boxes in the basement and found a long-lost treasure: three small watercolors of red birds, each supported by a handmade frame. They were signed BWR, my mom’s initials.

Currently, I’m waiting for my first shipment of acrylic oil paint and canvases. I think I’ll try my hand at painting.

Art is a total waste of money and time. As a boy and young man, that’s what I foolishly thought. Now, I know better. Art is a waste of time and money … unless you want to spend hours of enjoyment at your choice of craft.

And by doing so, create not only memories, but something you can pass down to your children, and they can pass down to theirs.

Mom’s small flock of red birds now hang in a prominent place on our bedroom wall. And to us, they are priceless.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]