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Art Beat

Jan. 13, 2005


'Til we meet again


[painting of Eureka by Linda Mitchell]THE THING IS, I'M NOT REALLY A WRITER. I'M A PAINTER. TWO YEARS AGO, when the Journal first asked me to come up with a column about the arts, I'd never had a single thing published. Clearly unqualified, I decided to give it a whirl anyway, mainly because, after living and working on the North Coast for over a decade, I knew the local art community was filled with intriguing people who had colorful stories to tell. Also, as an insider in that community, I had a lot to say and hoped to open a dialogue about local issues. And at the time, I actually thought writing might be fun.

Unfortunately, since I've spent a lifetime training to be a painter and not a journalist, it turns out I'm slow as molasses when it comes to putting pen to paper. I knew I was in trouble right from the beginning, when I wrote my first Art Beat story, early in 2003, an essay about artist statements. With a deadline looming, I stared at the blinking cursor on my desktop for a good five hours, my mind meandering around unrelated topics. So this is what "writer's block" is all about, I thought. Somehow I pulled it together and made the deadline, but I never wanted to construct another sentence as long as I lived. Writing was most definitely not fun.

The problem was, people liked the story. They called me on the phone, stopped me on the street and penned sweet letters and e-mails, encouraging me to keep Art Beat going. "I had no idea you could write," Floyd Bettiga sent me on a postcard. "You should give up painting and concentrate on that." The Journal's publisher, Judy Hodgson, asked me to write on a weekly basis, telling me most columnists can knock out 800 words in a couple of hours. She assured me I'd get the hang of it in no time. A little dizzy with success, I agreed to write biweekly, telling myself I'd give it six months. A year, tops. If writing didn't get any easier, I'd give it up.

Well, it hasn't gotten easier, but I've continued to write anyway because the stories have turned out to be more compelling than I could have anticipated. They've drawn me forward, one often leading to the next. At any rate, this little jaunt down memory lane represents more than my typical New Year's musings on times gone by -- it's also been a way of avoiding the real purpose of this story, which is to let you know that I've decided it's time to give up my column, at least for the time being.

This wasn't a decision I came to lightly, mind you. Nearly everyone I know tried to talk me out of it, so I kept reexamining my choice. Was I nuts? How could I give up a gig that was practically perfect? In spite of the fact that I still can't write a story in under two days (let alone two hours), the Journal has been heaven to work for. They've given me rock-solid support and complete creative freedom. They've gently corrected my errors so I wouldn't sound like a moron and published everything I sent them. They've given me a voice.

And on a personal level, writing Art Beat has proven to be an inspiring and educational experience. I've met gutsy, funny, talented people and asked them personal questions about their lives and art. I've made new friends and probably an enemy or two, as people have quoted and misquoted, interpreted and misinterpreted, my words and intentions. It's been an exhilarating, if sometimes surreal, experience.

Still, since I'm such a pathetically slow writer, producing a regular column has taken a substantial bite out of my painting time, that precious commodity of which I've spent most of my life trying to get more. Even so, I probably would have kept writing Art Beat indefinitely if my husband, Bill Cody, hadn't opened a new gallery (the Cody-Pettit) last month. Since he has a partner, I naively assumed the need for my help would be minimal, a misconception quickly squelched with the advent of the first show, when I realized that as knowledgeable and talented as Bill Cody and Bruce Pettit are, they're hopeless at hanging art or putting a room together, let alone writing press releases.

As I had also recently added another painting class to my schedule, I suddenly had a little too much on my plate for someone who's trying to simplify her life. When would I paint? Something had to give. That something, unfortunately, is my column, but I didn't want to leave without saying farewell and sharing a few observations.

Through Art Beat, I gained a broader perspective on the local art community, learning in the process what works, what doesn't work and why. I discovered that the community is larger, more interconnected and more dynamic than I realized, like a boisterous, multi-generational family, complete with feuds, alliances and controversy. It's a large, diverse, entertaining and imperfect brood, frequently dysfunctional, yet remarkably inclusive, continuing to grow at a brisk pace. It's a beautiful thing, really, strong and fragile at the same time, and most definitely alive.

At any rate, even though local stories continue to call me, the time has come for me to put away the Art Beat folder on my desktop and get back to the studio. I have a feeling, though, that we'll meet again. Stories are bound to come along that are too irresistible not to tell.

Would you like to step into Linda's shoes and write a bi-weekly column about news in the local arts community? Send a brief letter with a writing sample and two story ideas to Emily Gurnon (Editor)



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