Perennial Puppy Syndrome May 7, 2010 Dear Rodney,A few days ago a young bicycle courier brought his first five paintings around to my studio. "I'm not trying to get good," he said. "I just want to enjoy myself in my evenings after I get off the streets." We wondered together if it was possible to enjoy oneself as a painter without trying to get good. "Your definition of good," he said, "may not be my definition." During the past few decades biologists have been noticing changes in the behaviour of wolves. They're getting nicer. Not nearly as aggressive. Their ears no longer stand straight in anticipation of danger. Some researchers think they may be howling just for the fun of it. In captivity they can be trained to sleep with pussycats. Even in the wild, many wolves are now acting like your dog and mine. Apparently, the same thing is happening to us. Many humans now choose to be tail-waggers. We've become domesticated. We're gentler. If you're an easy going, relaxed, fun-loving, non-competitive artist, you may be one of the breed. It's mainly a Western phenomenon. Less challenged by our environment, out of harm's way and generally better off than previous generations, we've become complacent. Getting away from boredom in the workplace, we need only a pastime. An estimated forty million hobby painters propel the art-materials business. Like quilting, journaling, or maintaining an aquarium, folks just do it. Quality control may be a lesser aim. Marketing is a non-starter. These days, many artists mention goals of fulfillment and personal happiness over challenge and professionalism. The play's the game. The emphasis on inner child, return to innocence and the youth bias of the media stirs up the latent kid. Delayed maturity, in the traditional sense, is the result. What are the possible benefits of all this puppyhood? In the arts, immaturity has become a good place to start. We need the puppy-love before we seriously fall. The work, in Bernard Berenson's words, is simply "life enhancing." The downside may be chronic mediocrity, the effect of which can fan out through an entire culture. While teachers and workshoppers report daily discoveries of potential in beginners and hobbyists, many just stay put, ambition free, content to be out and about and part of a happy pack. Best regards, Robert PS: "Ambition is made of sterner stuff." (William Shakespeare) Esoterica: An artist may be a lone wolf. She may occasionally run with the pack. Most often she is happy foraging on her own. She may be wily and alert to opportunity. She may know that adventure can bring out her best. There are times when she's out for blood. There are also times when she's as playful as a puppy.