Sunday, September 12, 2010

Freedom Coach

I was in the studio the other day, working on some unfinished paintings. On the radio was Fresh Air. Terry Gross was interviewing Jonathan Franzen. I had read his book The Corrections and, after the interview, am considering his new book Freedom. I was interested in something he had to say on adulthood:

"And the key moment of becoming an adult, the difference, one of the defining differences between an adult and a kid is that adults relinquish a certain kind of freedom. You can't lie around on your bed all afternoon, and you can't be possibly any number of things. You have to only be one thing, or a couple of things (my italics)."

I am haunted by this. What does one want to do with one's life? Fumble along with the impulsively formed ideas of a teenager? What of making money? The notion of being "one thing" has been going on a tear in my mind the last few years, growing in strength as I approached 40. What is it that keeps me from painting every free moment? How much time should my garden activities be taking? Should I be making a living in the landscape, instead of my current job? It's like I have been living a life visible through a kaleidoscope, looking in there are all these pieces of me spinning around, somehow not whole or resolved, but you know there is a whole person there.

When I was in residence at Weir Farm last year, I spent much more time exploring the landscape than painting. I read books, I photographed, I blogged. Why paint when I can communicate in such a rapid manner? Why paint the fleeting light, the shifting values? Why paint at all?

I've been working on a small group of Prospect Park images. Each includes people -this is unusual for me. The colors are insanely green, toxic green. My colors are not to everyone's taste, but then what is?

Neither of these is near done yet, although this one is a little further along. Space, atmosphere, distance is important. People get hooked on technique, but that's just a means to the desired end.

I left the studio to do a garden coaching session. I had been considering removing this service from the blog, and was about to, until I was contacted by Aimee last week. She moved to a new place, had a history of gardening, and just needed some advice. I was a little early, so I walked around the block.

Pokeweed allowed to grow ornamentally.

Those berries look so good -don't!

The session went well -jeez, like it should! She had giant fig trees and some old shrubs (hibiscus, privet, forsythia) in the yard, decent, but dry, soil and an amenable landlord. An amazing yard, actually, with plenty of opportunity for growing. And lots of figs -a squirrel chowed down on them while we talked.

Afterward, I thought about making a living in gardens or landscapes. I thought about my dead end job. I thought about my mother in Florida trying to live on social security alone. I thought about painting. I thought about being 66 years old without much feeling of security. I thought about Jonathan Franzen writing a book called Freedom.


  1. Frank,

    I really like your paintings. The first one speaks to me. I also think people are many things at once. Pity the poor person who gets to do only one thing. Franzen may have found his niche in writing, but he gets to write about many topics of his choosing.

    Do you choose what to do or does it choose you?

    I think all of your activities feed you and your work -- painting, teaching, gardening, writing/sharing.

    Do you have a blog about your art?

    Wayne, PA

  2. Ahh, found the link to your artwork. The color and texture of your paintings are wonderful.

    Wayne, PA

  3. Tell me about it.

    Your paintings are stunning. I really want one and think we may have to discuss lay by terms :-)

    You deserve to be living fatly off your art.

    I just bought Freedom, well, about ten days ago. I liked the Corrections and will probably read it again - not so much the 27th City.

    I had a crisis the few months after high school before univeristy, because I had to CHOOSE and I couldn't. My stomach was one tight knot.

    I have had two careers and seem to be on the start of a third.

    Wouldn't it be fine if we just wanted to make a lot of money and had no distractions of creativity or conscience or if we were not hard wired to ask any questions whatsoever?

  4. don't stop painting! you have a wonderful eye for simplicity & stillness in the landscape. And gardening is in any case a practical way to paint. I am on my second career and about to embark on a third! from oral hygiene to architecture to glassblowing! who cares about security! it can be taken away in a split second anyway. Rather concentrate on true security. Creativity!

  5. I love that first one Frank, the light, texture, everything. I'd be so happy to hang it on my wall.

    My first career was in nusical theatre. I made it to Bway and loved the work but not the life. My second career (in horticulture) includes many different kinds of work and I wouldn't have it any other way. I like the teaching, the writing, the problem solving, the manual labor. It's all horticulture, but many different aspects of horticulture. I'd be very bored doing one thing all the time. Interestingly, the skills I used in my first career have come in very handy in the second one...a pleasant surprise.

    I am a firm believer in doing what you love. A dead end job will never get better. Of course I say that from the comfort of having no kids to put through college.

  6. Thanks everyone for all the support!

    Heather, I'm glad you found my art site. I suppose you and your work find eachother. Like any relationship though, sometimes its not so healthy, and you should move on.

    Marie, Yes, that would be fine if we weren't aware of it! I guess we here are all hard-wired. I laugh because you make me remember my three choices for college: artist, car designer, or meteorologist! Since I was lousy at advanced math, I went for art!

    Also, I know which one you like and you should see it on a wall in daylight and then you'll know. I'm sure we can come to an agreement should you feel certain.

    Marita, I agree with you. I've been living that way for 20 years. But I've noticed that, later in life, there are different levels of "no security," and some levels come with pensions or paying investments. I've watched my mom go from somewhat middle class financially to nothing in three years. I've become sure of one thing, and that is when you're 65 and have no income, no one will care, except maybe your children if you have any. People will shake their heads and say that you should've prepared. Then they'll fly off to some warm location. When your 65, it sure is helpful to have some income to keep exploring.


    You and Marie -singers! I'm interested in the moment you both honestly realized you wanted a change. Or was it a slow change? It's hard to say this absolutely, but when I was 21 I loved painting and gardening was something I did or thought I could do when I wasn't doing it. Now, I feel like painting has taken a back seat and gardening is a hobby I love. I certainly haven't "professionalized" in the sense that artists have expected over the last 15 years. Like you, I've not had a love of the life of the artist, particularly the "social" work, the running around, the endless parties. I'm a worker, and as my wife says, I'm best when I am at work.

    I like the way you think about all those different activities included in your work. I would get bored too. Same reason I cannot easily spend 8 hours a day in the studio. One needs a variety of stimulation! But you're no dabbler, you have a career! I think this is what's of concern to me now. What is my career?

  7. Frank, I love your art and I love your blog!...please come to my talk tomorrow night at the Horticultural Society on 37th Street...Secrets of Creating Gardens of Serenity...look it up on their website.

    I am an artist soul too and have made my livelihood from landscape design and horticultural services for 40 years ...Do not stop! It is your calling!

  8. I just linked your blog as a favorite in my blog - Jan Johnsen

  9. Jonathan Franzen. The Corrections. Since reading it I have been waiting very eagerly for his next book and FREEDOM has been sitting on my table right now – can’t wait to start. How great that you caught the interview with him - he does indeed give us a lot to think about, and so have you with this post (and all of you with your comments!)

    It astounds me that anyone can ever answer these questions for themselves with certainty - I've surely never been able to.

    Things are always changing too, and the balance shifts according to how I feel, where I am (in my life, in my head, in my relationship to everything).

    Twenty years ago I never dreamed I'd want some of the things I do now, as I also approach forty. A little comfort and security have begun to take up more room in my "what's important" scheme of things, and it’s taken me a bit by surprise. Is it age? Is it fear? Is it seeing my older siblings and other people struggle in their later years because of choices they made when they were younger?

    I am yet another actress / singer. I love the creative part and loathe the business end. Lately I've begun to think "why do I put myself through it - where is the emotional / spiritual pay off?" The opportunities for fulfilling work seem fewer and farther between than ever some days.

    Wants and needs keep shifting around and I just try not to judge. If something makes me happy and I can make it part of my life, well…that's about where I'm at right now. And right now it’s the garden.

    Thank you, Frank, for your wonderful blog which is always interesting, informative, thought-provoking, inspiring, amusing, and just a general delight. I always look forward to it.

    Thank you for visiting my garden space and for all of the great thoughts, observations, direction, advice, and inspiration you gave! I feel like I know so much more about the yard and what’s in it and more confident jumping off the gardening cliff and getting started. You’re a great coach with great instincts and I felt lucky to have the chance to try and absorb as much of your knowledge, ideas and enthusiasm as I could.

    You have such a broad palette (pun intended) of wonderful talents! I agree with Marie that you deserve to be living fatly off of your art…which in my opinion extends to gardening, among many other things. I hope you will always keep on doing all of the things make you happy and that you will be rewarded for them!

  10. Aimee, it was a pleasure to help you begin your garden and thank you for all your kind words. Keep me posted!


If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...