My Passion

By Betty Booker | December 15th, 2015

Columnist Betty Booker says goodbye to readers

The visiting artists/instructors at the Vermont Studio Center told me I ought to paint every day.

No weekends off. Just go into my east-facing attic studio and make art. I was just into my 40s and restarting this art thing late. I had no time to waste.

Put your art before everything else, they said. Including my writing.


We’re talking advice from art-world luminaries, offered to center students, who included pros, up-and-comers and would-be painters like me:

• Abstract impressionist Grace Hartigan, who insisted one’s brushes be cleaned and one’s taboret (artsy-fartsy word for storage/work surface cabinet) be tidied at the end of each day. This from an artist who said she loved messes and often painted with her bare feet, which then required pedicures.

• American feminist painter Joan Semmel, whose enormous nudes, some in flagrante delicto, shocked viewers who overlooked her mastery of human form.

• Berkeley artist Christopher Brown, whose delight in the push-pull between reality and what we actually perceive still stimulates my interest in the hidden structure beneath surface patterns – in writing as well as art.

• Then there’s neo-expressionist Martha Diamond, whose cityscapes explore the often disconcerting energy of New York, who insisted that I get up before dawn if that’s what it took to do something for art. These pros probably give such advice to all students, mentees or not. I fall in the latter category. What they may not realize is that their impact can be life changing, even years later, as in my case.

I didn’t follow their advice to design every day around art. But I remembered it.


Journalism is an all-consuming profession. It’s my experience that most reporters are passionate about their roles as truth-tellers in a democracy. Whatever it takes, as long as it takes.

There can be no painting at 5 a.m. when you’ve been doing whatever it takes until midnight. Creative energy gets sucked out of you. In Vermont, I painted two dugs hooked up to a relentless “milking” machine. Semmel got the sentiment immediately, then said the oil sketch would have been better if that green hadn’t been repeated so much. She was correct.

So: Now.

I’ve been studying with Dutch-born painter and master teacher Christaphora Robeers for, what? Ten years? Maybe more if you count the on-and-off studio classes with her and other artists when I could no longer ignore my longing for art.

Recently she said I needed to get into my studio and express this lifetime of creativity.

I plan to in January. Everything else will take a back seat.

Writing deadlines will have to be set aside. At least for now, no more columns about what to give fuzzy-faced great-aunts for the holidays, though I can’t resist saying never buy her rose-scented dusting powder at the drug store on Christmas Eve. She still has the unopened one from last year.

Years ago I interviewed a VCU neurologist who said that one of the traits he detected in patients with early-onset memory loss was that they didn’t have anything in their lives that they were passionate about.

You can tell you’re passionate, he said, because you jump out of bed every morning to pursue your reason for living, determined as a hell-bent-for-leather cowboy. This “thing” you care about should require you to learn challenging new information. It should propel you to express yourself fully, and to give back to society in a way that you find meaningful.

It may be unfinished business, but it’s also new business. I believe I still have enough energy and experience, Deo volente, to make the leap from word-smithing to image-making.

My art mentor, Christaphora, listened closely when I described these plans; then summed up the truth I didn’t acknowledge back in 1988:

“You have to edit your life. Sometimes you have to make hard choices. You have to free your spirit for creativity.”

Betty Booker is a retired Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter and columnist, who wrote for BOOMER for nearly eight years.

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