Postcards from the Pandemic VI (The Game of Life and a Case for the Cottage)
Updated: Mar 16, 2021
Me Dreamt, 2020
By Bobby Padilla
Mixed media on canvas, 13" x 16"
Have you ever played the game of Life? I’m not being rhetorical or esoteric, I’m referring to the Parker Brothers version of the game of life, which is now produced by Hasbro I think. For the sake of conversation, I’ll refer to the updated late 1970s early 1980s version of the game from the original 1860, since that left a lasting influence. Before I found myself in the midst of the real “Life” version that I’ve been playing everyday for the last 35-40+ years.
Without reading like a game manual or instructional guide, let’s just refresh the basic concepts. You and up to four players spin a dial and take turns traversing a game board. You may take paths that lead you to college, or not, or certain career decisions. Along the way, you may get married, gather sons or daughters as your little car game piece holds up to 6 slots. All the while you try to accumulate wealth while dealing with the random events you encounter. As you come to the end of the game, you’re confronted with an option. Betting on a spin of the dial, you either “win” and path up to the mansion wind up a millionaire and “live out in style”, or you “lose” and path towards “losing it all” and wind up a philosopher tucked away in a little country cottage.
Improvisation (Dream), 1913
By Wassily Kandinski
Oil on canvas
Perhaps growing up a poor city kid in real life I always could dream of the big house and living out my days in style with a huge bank account. But the reality of my being made it possible for me to ”lose” that board game and take pride in the meaning of being the philosopher off in obscurity. You can see where I’m going with this, right? While the boardgame has to determine a winner, real life doesn’t necessarily label you winners and losers by your choices. Wait, that’s not right either. Of course, we’re judged on the choices we make in our life, however it’s the understanding we seek from those choices to place the value on our existence. In real life we seek the balance and it’s not either or. By the way, I wound an artist tuck away in obscurity in a cottage in the burbs not in the countryside.
A Pathway in Monet's Garden in Giverny, 1902
By Claude Monet
Oil on Canvas
To my next point about the choices we make about the lives we imagine for ourselves and how we try our best to live that way. Choosing a life in the arts, particularly in fine art, is going to be difficult and probably not that lucrative. Yes, there’s always exceptions, but a vast majority languish away in relative obscurity. Right now, in your head, name 5-7 famous artists. Chances are the same names are bouncing around your heads. Also, chances are that those names are from 100-500 years ago. I could give you the current edition of Art Forum and you wouldn’t know anybody at the forefront or on the cutting edge of the art world. Point being, there are so many artist, musicians, actors, and writers just drifting about in creative purgatory, you’ll never hear of them. Fortune may come to few, rarely fame, which seems to be bestowed on the individuals not worthy of it. A lottery of right place at the right time, or somehow curried the favor of some critic somewhere, thus a winner of a popularity contest. I know the sour grapes in that. You know those famous artist that you listed silently in your head? Picasso was underpaid and appreciated in his lifetime, Di Vinci was thought to be insane and a heretic, Michelangelo was wealthy but lived like a pauper, and well, you know how Van Gogh lived. He never sold a single painting in his life. Not to paint with a broad brush, (pun intended), there are countless stories of great artist past and present whose stories will never be documented in the history books. Hopefully, their artistic legacy, and I don’t use that term lightly, will be remembered by their children and grandchildren. Whether it’s righteousness or incredible insecurity, artist want to be remembered for their work. We pray that future individuals will look upon our work and understand our thoughts, how we lived, and appreciate our ability to narrate our lives though creative thought.
The Youthful Poet's Dream, 1820
By William Blake
Watercolor on Paper
The Dream (Bed), 1940
By Frida Kahlo
Oil on canvas
So, I’m in that rabble. Driven by the compulsion to paint, with no market to sell, and no wall space left in my little cottage in the burbs. My mind is full of symbols and voices, past and present, that on bad days paralyze me, but on those good days I can orchestrate those elements into a painting. I know, I sound like lunatic. So, lets get back to “Life” as played in real time.
A Dream, 1929
By Pablo Picasso
Oil on Canvas
I’m not well off in the “mansion” at the end of the game. Whether by chance, choice or fate, I’m the benefactor of the “philosopher’s cottage”, and it doesn’t feel like a consolation. Yes, while wealth is good, so is the self-actualization of the person you dreamed of being. I look at how my days play out and how they compare to someone in the pantheons of those art history books. I paint the flowers in my humble garden no different than Monet in Giverny. Because there is currently no other obligation, I paint all day in my messy studio (yes, I have my own on premises studio that’s not a corner of a basement) and day drink out in the ‘burbs like Jackson Pollack, (big shout out to the Coronavirus). I compose surrealist works that tell the stories of my pain and joy like Frida Kahlo. I’m as pompous as Picasso, as well as classically trained. And of course, preaching to those younger than me the value of chasing your dreams with passion while living relatively unnoticed as Van Gogh did during his abbreviated life. While I’m not globe trotting exotic locations or spending afternoons socializing with other artist in cafes in the Champs-Elysees, I do enjoy Absinthe and a cigar in my patio while quietly contemplating my next painting. Not to mention, I sound like a blathering idiot when trying to explain my work like, well, like every artist.
Strong Dream, 1929
By Paul Klee
Gouache and Watercolor on paper
So then, is this the life I imagined? In some ways… yes. The pangs of stardom or critical recognition along with riches that come with it are always there, which statistically is 85-90% of us. I try to have a good marriage (24 yrs. And counting) and be a good husband and loving father to my boys. I try to sustain my paint and sip business and substitute at the local high school, where I can be the wise old sage. I can walk into any art museum and tell you the name of the work before you look at the plate. Did I lose the game? There are times I feel like I did. Then I dream of my grandchildren and how they’ll discuss those crazy paintings that Pop-Pop did. I imagine them arguing over who gets which one or having arguments with their spouses over where to hang them and how they don’t match the curtains. Then those thoughts of fame and fortune don’t seem as important as the next painting I’ll work on. Most thoughts about painting and the context for which they’re valued are silly. I wish I could explain the compulsion to paint but I can’t, maybe that’s equally silly. None the less, that is the path I chose that lead me to my cottage. It’s an active practice to be in the moment and to really appreciate where you are and just who you are right now. It takes a certain discipline to filter out the static from all the wants and unfulfilled goals, the failures and misguided aspirations, and just focus on what is important in your life right now, (thanks again Coronavirus).
So, as stated periodically throughout the last 50 plus blog post and in my Roc Paint Sip Mission Statement; Family, Painting, making memories, food, baseball. With party planning on hold and no baseball anytime soon, the focus is clear, family and painting and food to a lesser extent. The game of Life has been redesigned several time throughout the decades to reflect the times. None of those updates include living through a pandemic. Our lives are more than a spin of a dial or a winner take all proposition, It’s not this or that. The wheel spins slowly over decades and our perspective is that of the game token and not that of the looming entity that sees the entire gameboard, if only we had that perspective and if only there were do-overs. Would you play differently or play the game the same way down that familiar path to either that mansion or the cottage?