M.J. Rose on Painting Badly, Writing Well

I wasn’t surprised that M.J. Rose was a terrific interview. I would have been more surprised if she were not, if you follow. Also not a surprise that she has great advice for fledgling authors. There are some surprises though. One, for me, was how she came to use those particular initials. And another was the fact that she likes “museums better than bookstores, art supply stores more than computer stores.” And even though she feels she’s a “truly bad” painter, she brings a lot of passion to the stuff she paints:

I can stare at colors for hours, mix blues and greens into each other for no other reason than seeing them bleed together like the ocean. I love the smell of paint, the sting of the turpentine in your nose, the overwhelming scent of the linseed oil, the feel of brushes, buying new brushes and running one down your cheek and feeling that smooth silky touch of the sable. I love touching thick rich watercolor paper with its tiny indentations where the color pools. And I lust after the idea that when you paint you can create something in an hour or an afternoon and look at all of it at once. See the whole. Take in all of it all at the same time.

I totally understand that feeling. Though I’d be hard-pressed to wax as elegantly and eloquently about my art, I also paint... and paint badly. And there are those who will say, “It’s a subjective artform!” (The speech of people who say stuff like is always peppered with exclamation marks.) “There’s no such thing as bad!” To which I would reply: yes. There is. And it lives in my brush.

One of the things Rose talks about is the frustration of not being able to bring to life the paintings that form in her head. And I so relate to that, as well. That’s where the “bad art” feeling comes from, I think. People look at my piddling little watercolors or my overly garish acrylics (when I haven’t moved quickly enough to hide them) and say, “What are you talking about? They’re all right.” And, OK: I guess they are. They’re like the very worst of the OK paintings you’ve ever seen. But in my head! Man. The paintings I make in my head rock this world.

Anyway, that’s a total aside. We talked about a lot of things besides paintings, good and bad. Lots of writing stuff. Lots of stuff about her new book, The Reincarnationist. Even some stuff about Winka (her dog) and Doug (her Doug!). And, because this is M.J. Rose, we talked a bit about promotion and the state of book industry today. But the painting... oh that stuff just breaks my heart.

The interview is here and, on her personal Web page, M.J. Rose is there.


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