I’ve always wished I were an artist. The gene seems to have passed me by. Both my parents were amateur artists. But the closest I ever got was when I once tried to draw a political cartoon strip. The strip was funny or maybe poignant (I thought), but the characters were little more than stick figures and pretty poor ones at that.
There are few members of the creative arts who seem to get more enjoyment from what they do than artists. Okay, musicians also seem to have a great time, but mostly because they’re always partying. Actors obsess way too much. Don’t get me started on writers.
Having no talent really shouldn’t stop me. I understand that. Look how much enjoyment Churchill got from his art, even though he didn’t take it up until he was forty and never took lessons or studied technique. When would he have had the time? Like many things he did, he worked it out pretty much on his own. Though he got quite good at it, he could be dismissive of his painting skills: “They are only of interest in having been painted by a notorious character!”
However, renowned painter Sir Oswald Birley once concluded: “If Churchill had given the time to art that he has given to politics, he would have been by all odds the world’s greatest painter.” He was, in fact, a decent artist and of course had the added advantage of already being famous so that, nowadays, his paintings can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, as a number recently did at a Sotheby’s sale. The top item in the sale, The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell, went for 1.8 million English pounds.
It’s difficult to be talented at the highest levels in more than a single discipline. Of course, there are those who have done so and Churchill is among the first examples that come to mind. He was a genius in military and tactical planning, in politics, in literature (Nobel Prize winner), in oratory and still had time to save the free world. He was not a genius at painting, however.
Someone who probably did feel he was a genius at most things he did was Adolf Hitler. Many comparisons have been made between the two greatest rivals of the twentieth century and their artistic abilities. Hitler is most often described as a failed painter. He was rejected as an art student but produced hundreds of paintings, including many done at the front during World War I. Following the Great War, he gave up painting for politics. Would that he had only been successful at art and gone on to teach the subject in Austria. Instead, he became the greatest art thief in history, looting the great chateaus, castles and museums of Europe. His plans to create his own museum after the war were never realized, and it’s hard to imagine tourists flocking to see his looted art collection built upon the destroyed lives of so many.
Though I’m no art critic, I believe the differences in their characters are clearly displayed in their work. While both preferred landscapes to portraits, Churchill displays greater depth and more vibrant use of color. One can see his passion and love for what he was doing in his work. Hitler, on the other hand, was much more pedestrian, his colors often flat, his portrayals of buildings much more functional, with little sign of emotion. Indeed, some of the university people who rejected his work suggested he might make a better go of it as an architect.
No doubt Hitler would be furious to hear about the sort of prices Churchill’s works command today. The Fuhrer has never come close, though as another “notorious “ figure, his paintings still bring interest when they appear on the market.
Perhaps some day when I’m older, I’ll retire and take up painting. But I’m not holding my breath. Desire alone may not be enough. There must be a whisper of talent somewhere within. I think Churchill had that whisper. I’d much rather identify with the passion of Churchill than with the cold, utilitarian approach of Hitler.