Becoming an Artist

When I was sixteen or seventeen years old I was in the habit of drawing but I had no thought or intention of becoming an artist. I thought about travel and exploration and I was obsessed by the lure of far away places. The further away and more remote the better.

My imagination was particularly caught by the lure of Arctic exploration. I read all that I could find about the outstanding polar explorers – Percy, Amundson – I was for a time completely absorbed with dreams of adventure in the far north and south Polar Regions. This was shortly before flights to the South Pole by Commander Byrd and the others had more or less destroyed the aura of reaching these places by sheer physical effort and indomitable will against the elements. My concept of arctic exploration was summed up in the vision of mushing through snow and over icy wastes behind a dog team. My youthful passions were stirred by thoughts of icy wastes and dark star studded skies and the fierce discipline of bare existence. In my reading about Viajmer Stefansson I found that he was a professor of Anthropology at the University of North Dakota. So I wrote to him naively asking him how to become an arctic explorer.

After many weeks I received a kind letter from the note explorer. He startled me by asking what science I was involved in. I was startled because my naïve concept of an arctic explorer was of an intrepid soul mushing behind a dog team. It had not occurred to me that as Stefansson reminded me that an explorer would need to be looking for something in the pursuit of science. Then he made a prophetic statement – He said that I must remember that explorers, inventors, and artists did what they did, for the candle, and that it was others who came after them who sought fame and money. This made an impression on me and having become an artist I have had reason to think of it often. (the reference to “candle” implies that explorers, inventors and artists lead the way and others then profit from that.)