I take my first step into the museum entrance and gaze up at the 50 ft ceiling. It is magnificent. I just entered another world. I can only imagine how the art must look beyond the next few walls. Breathtaking, unfathomable, unbelievable! My thoughts are interrupted by a rude monotone voice: "Are you a teacher or a student?" "No," I reply. "That will be twenty two dollars please. Head down this hall for the directory and the elevator."
As I begin my museum voyage I'm reminded why I don't frequent museums. They're cold. Prestigious. Often, un inviting. Non the less I am excited to see the work. As I walk into the first exhibit, I am shocked. The art on the wall is breathtaking. I'm not only awe stricken, I'm intimidated. Who painted this? How did it get here? It all feels so out of reach. Perhaps I can relate to it on some deep levels, but my friend from Queens who I brought with me is completely uncomfortable. He has felt small and out of place since the second he walked in the door. He can't relate to any of it.
I realize upon seeing his body language that he's uncomfortable. FUCK THIS PLACE, I say. Lets bail. He looks up and smiles and says yea man, let's go get some lunch and people watch.
The situation you just read strengthened the disconnect between regular people and art. The prestige and elitism of the museum served as the barrier between my friend and his enjoyment of the art work. I hate that. Which brings me to question: is that what I'm after? I personally don't feel uncomfortable in museums. I enjoy looking at the masters. I enjoy learning and soaking up the brilliance of the great painters who have made it to the highest levels. I do feel however, that museums can be very cold elite environments. Places that only reach a specific kind of person. Today I was forced to ask myself, is that REALLY my goal?
The most rewarding times in my art career so far have been receiving emails and messages from normal people, young people, PEOPLE- from all walks of life, telling me I have effected them. Inspired them. Ignited a change in them. Those moments, where I sit and read that I, PAUL COOLEY, have made a real positive change, are the happiest moments for me. Happier than hanging in a show and receiving praise for my work. Happier than closing a sale on a painting for a lot of money. Happier than anything else I've accomplished in the arts. I have realized, THAT is what I'm after.
In the last few years I've set this goal for myself: "I want to hang my paintings in museums." I want to reach the top of the fine art world. Arguably one of the hardest career paths there is. One of the hardest worlds to break into. This is a high aspiration but I know I can achieve it. Today I was having a conversation with another artist, about my recent thoughts on the matter and I discovered some new things.
As I was talking to him it kind of came out: what good would accomplishing my goal do? Would I change the world? Would I effect and inspire young people? I know when I was a young person I wasn't frequenting museums. I still don't. Who would I be appealing to? Am I going to work so hard and become so successful with the elitists that I create a bigger and bigger gap between my work and who can access it? Appreciate it? Relate to it? Own it?
I have been told multiple times by multiple people that seeing my painting was the first time they could understand art. That's real- people have really told me that. That's POWERFUL! I haven't just made some good art, I somehow was able to touch and effect someone who has never appreciated art before! Maybe I was able to inspire them!
This makes me happy. Isn't that what life is about? When I can inspire others and effect positive change, I am filled with happiness. I feel a real genuine sense of purpose. I have really been struggling lately with this battle inside. This need for me to pursue and achieve greatness. Today, I started to let go of that. Today I felt myself gaining a better understanding of Paul Cooley and what I am doing here. Today I got back to the roots. I learned a little more about me, and it freed me.
The preconceived idea of my ultimate success was selfish. It was only about me. I want to become one of the greats. If I accomplish that but I don't change the world, I will not be happy. If I change the world but I'm never considered a brilliant painter by the art historians, I don't care. I've accomplished something greater than art and greater than me; and I will be happy. Making it to the highest rung of the fine art world would allow me to inspire elite art enthusiasts and maybe a few people who watched me rise there from the very beginning. That's not a lot of people! Eventually I would reach a place where the non-millionaires and non-art enthusiasts might no longer be involved in my process. How sad! That is NOT my goal.
As a matter of fact, I would rather use methods that made art museums and art elitists SHUN ME if it meant I could effect millions of college students or high school students and inspire them to be good people or to follow their dreams. I would rather stir up a huge social movement that becomes so much bigger and more important than me.. Then to EVER be in a museum. Ironically no matter how it played out, that legacy would end up in museums and history books anyway.
Even as I'm sitting here writing this I realize more and more that I have NO interest in reaching any level of success if it's for my own selfish accomplishments. Life is too short. I want to help others and I want to make a change. It's clear to me that I was meant to be an artist. I will continue on my path, without a warped idea of where I'm supposed to be heading. I feel free right now. I might reject every single technique I've learned about abstract painting and just paint black and white poems. Make paintings that even ten year olds can digest. I might.
I guess the lesson i have learned here is to remain open minded to matter what. For the past two years i have been working towards one goal in my head, while accomplishing short goals along the way, i found a better goal. A more fulfilling goal. Something that fills me up. This goes back to "the journey not the destination" concept. I must be present during the journey. Keeping an open mind and an open heart. If i have blinders on the whole way i might accomplish my goal and realize it was the wrong goal all along.