Note to Younger Self - Chuck Close

When I write here, I often write as if I'm speaking to my sons, who are both immersed in life and their own creative process. They inspire me. This is for them and anyone else who has overcome huge obstacles or who is currently in the trenches.

Thank you to Catherine Kehoe for posting the piece below on her blog, the Painting: Powers of Observation.

Lucas I (1986–1987), oil & pencil on canvas, seen on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, left. Detail of eye, right. The pencil grid and thin undercoat of blue is visible beneath the splotchy "pixels." The painting's subject is fellow artist Lucas Samaras.

Lucas I (1986–1987), oil & pencil on canvas, seen on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, left. Detail of eye, right. The pencil grid and thin undercoat of blue is visible beneath the splotchy "pixels." The painting's subject is fellow artist Lucas Samaras.

I was in the eighth grade and was told not to even think about going to college. I couldn’t add or subtract, never could memorize multiplication tables, was advised against taking algebra, geometry, physics, chemistry. Since I was good with my hands I was advised to aim for trade school, perhaps body and fender work.

Never let anyone define what you are capable of by using parameters that don’t apply to you. I applied to a junior college in my hometown with open enrollment, got in and embarked on a career in the visual arts. Virtually everything I’ve done is influenced by my learning disabilities. I think I was driven to paint portraits to commit images of friends and family to memory. I have face blindness, and once a face is flattened out I can remember it much better.

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. Every great idea I’ve ever had grew out of work itself. Sign on to a process and see where it takes you. You don’t have to invent the wheel every day. Today you’ll do what you did yesterday, tomorrow you’ll do what you did today. Eventually you’ll get somewhere. No one gets anywhere without help. Mentors, including your parents, can make you feel special even when you’re failing in other areas. Everyone needs to feel special.

My father died when I was eleven and that was the tragedy of my life, a horrible thing to happen when you’re so young. Oddly enough, there was a gift in this tragedy. I learned very early in life that the absolute worst thing can happen to you and you will get past it and you will be happy again. Losing my father at a tender age was extremely important in being able to accept what happened to me later when I became a quadriplegic.

If you’re overwhelmed by the size of a problem, break it down into many bite-size pieces. Quadriplegics don’t envy the able-bodied, we envy paraplegics. We think they’ve got a much easier row to hoe. There’s always someone worse off than you. I’m confident that no artist has more pleasure, day in and day out from what he or she does, than I do.
— Chuck Close - Note to Younger Self