My One Wish. Well, Maybe

"Too Much Bunny" by Mark Bryan

The painting above is by Mark Bryan. It’s called “Too Much Bunny”. It fascinates me because it’s one of those images that’s really worth a thousand words. Not all images are, despite what people say. Some are worth only 500. Occasionally 300. But this is worth a novel. At least to me.

I love it because it is pretty and somewhat familiar: part Golden Book, part Mark Ryden, part Edward Hopper, part WPA artwork (maybe). But mostly I love it because it tells a story. An enticingly ambiguous story. Are the bunnies figments of the man’s dream? Or do they live secretly in the walls, only coming out to stare at him when he drifts off? How do they know when he’s asleep? Are their intentions good? Evil? Ambivalent? Will they disappear before he wakes, or will he open his eyes to see them there, quietly panting and staring with curiosity and a hint of hunger? Will he be afraid, or are they old friends?

And so on.

Images can do that. I don’t know Mr. Bryan, but I am surrounded by other people who draw, paint, sculpt, take photographs. They think visually. They notice shapes and intersections. They tell stories through things and composition and color. I’ve always wanted to do that.

Well, not always. Until I reached college, I tended to express myself in words. I wrote. I acted, reciting the words that other people had written. I studied French. I loved language. Still do.

But in college, I had my first real art class. Not one about making art, which I’d done since I was a kid — hand-turkeys and popsicle-stick god’s eyes and all that crap — but art appreciation. Botticelli. Cindy Sherman. Klimt. Tanguy. And I finally realized, “Oh, that’s what everyone’s been going on about. Pictures tell stories.”

I wanted to tell stories, too, and images seemed like such an efficient way of doing it. Spend months writing a novel that no one will read from start to finish, or spend months on a painting that tells the same story that anyone with eyes can view in a minute or an hour or a day? The choice seemed simple.

I decided that my first project would be a tarot deck. (I think my then-girlfriend had given me one of the old Rider-Waite decks for Christmas. I was inspired.) I had reimagined all of the major arcana using our friends from college. It was going to be brilliant.

But I never got past the magician, which I wanted to draw as my girlfriend, Margaret. I got the table right, I guess, though the shading wasn’t perfect. But by the time I got to her face, I was lost. How do you use a pen or charcoal to draw something as personal as a face? I couldn’t see lines or shapes or weight or anything. I couldn’t see the parts of her, I could only see her. I could only see the forest, not the trees.

I knew that people studied and sketched and trained for years to be able to do those sorts of things. So I went back to the drawing board, literally, doing smaller things. Still-life stuff. Inanimate objects, things that didn’t move or breathe or talk. But even the simplest subjects — a book lying on a table, an empty coffee cup on a windowsill — revealed that I had no aptitude for it. I had no aptitude and, frankly, no patience.

And so, I’m stuck with words. I don’t always use them well, but as Hedwig says, it’s what I’ve got to work with.

If I could have one wish granted, I’d probably ask for world peace, or an end to suffering and disease, or something altruistic that would really piss off Ayn Rand. But if I had a second wish, one just for me, I’d maybe wish for the ability to draw or paint or sculpt and tell stories with shapes and images.

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