Acrylic Painting of a Carousel Pony

Ponies vs. Jacks

Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist living in the United States, now in her 90s, who is known for her obsession with dots. Until reading about her this week, I thought she only painted canvases filled with dots, aka Infinity Nets, but apparently she does all sorts of art stuff, including having done more ‘realistic’ images, just with dots.

I don’t get it, really. I’m not a fan. I appreciate her being true to her artistic vision and applaud her for her success, but I don’t really like her work. It’s not for me and that’s okay. She’s done just fine without me even knowing she existed for most of my life.

Anyway, Kusama has painted using dots in some form for her entire professional career, about 70 years. And sells her work enough to make a living all that time. And gets big art retrospectives at fancy museums. And apparently she never gets tired of dots.

I feel like if I did only one kind of painting, I’d be a one-trick pony. I should be able to paint anything and everything perfectly: Landscapes, Portraits, Still Lifes, Abstract, Murals. But that’s just my own negative thoughts intruding on reality. Few, if any, artists excel at every genre or subject matter of painting. Most pick one or two things that really appeal to them and do variations on those themes for their whole careers.

And besides, who cares if I am a one-trick pony? It’s not like anything anywhere in the world is dependent on what shapes or colors I smear onto my wooden panels.

It’s only my own head that this is a problem.

And YET… get this… and YET at the same time, there’s a part of my brain that says if I do a LOT of different things I’ll be a jack of all trades and master of none. Which is also a bad thing according to my upbringing.

So, as usual, I have conflicting messages:

Do everything well so you’re not a one-trick pony, and

Doing everything means you’ll never do anything well.

Damned if I do and if I don’t. That was the core message of my childhood and still a hard message to deprogram from my brain.

So, whenever I feel like I should paint something besides sunflowers or back gates or whatever else I’ve painted for the bajillioneth time, or write about yet another character investigating an old trunk in an attic, I remember Yayoi Kusama or Agnes Martin (who did a similar thing with stripes), or even Stephen King whose subjects were so often boys and their friendships. It’s fine to return to the same tropes and subject matter over and over in one’s creative work. It’s normal. It’s expected.

Carry on and paint another sunflower.

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