(Painting: RA Friedman, 1994 "Little Girl Lost," acrylic on canvas paper, approx 14" x 11", whereabouts unknown.)
Recently, Brainard Carey, an artist who also does career development asked the question about peoples' "Aha" moments for a book on which he is working. I was thinking about this question and also a statement that I've seen at least from a few well-known artists: "When I first saw a work by "X," it was like coming home"--an immediate sense of visual recognition that seems to run through the history of modern painting.
I never had that. Instead, I perceived, or more likely, felt there was something about the lives of creative people that I yearned to have for myself. I believed they were on to and tuned into something. I wanted to belong to "the club." In large measure my conception was highly romanticized and in many ways untrue. I saw only the gemutlichkeit and not the struggles and pains. The greatest internal pull was exercised by my undergraduate drawing teacher, Charles Eldred, which almost anyone who studied with him will attest to. When I entered both his physical and psychological space, I knew "This is what I want to do."
The odd part is (and perhaps this is my "aha" moment for today) is I was not particularly skilled and though I looked at a lot of visual art, did not "get it" either visually or conceptually. Drawing was a kind of therapy for me. My ideas did not translate well into pencil and paint but rather came forth in small, fortuitous moments which were enough to muddle me through via sheer hard work. I never really figured out how to evolve a powerful overall statement that was hand-made. Ironically, within the last year or so, now that I'm working in another media (photography), I can approach a piece of paper as an overall visual field, rather than starting with atomized pieces or ideas that I then struggle (and fail to) unite. I might even make some paintings this year.