This I Believe

Jackson, Lee


  • Lee Jackson describes his love of painting, and how he found encouragement to pursue that love despite lack of recognition or finances in the early days of his career.
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And now, This I Believe. The living philosophies of thoughtful men and women presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow
This I Believe. Lee Jackson is an artist. His paintings are part of the permanent collections of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Corcoran Galleries, the Los Angeles Museum and many others. He has exhibited in every show of major importance in the United States and has also displayed his work in several one man shows. Mr. Jackson attended the Art Students League of New York and studied with John Sloan. In recognition of his creative talent he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. Listen now as Lee Jackson puts aside his brush and pallet to express in words the things in which he believes.
To create, on a square of canvas, twinkling images of an adored world is a power which never ceases to delight and astonish me. Dancers jitterbugging in the park; toy-like calico ponies of the rodeo cavorting and wheeling with the same intentness as their human riders; a market boy, his wan face caught, pale and greeny, for a moment in a shaft of fluorescent light from a neighboring store window. This is the stuff of my art and my life.
When I look back and I wonder how I arrived at this point and what factors shaped my life, no simple, all-inclusive explanation comes ready to my mind. Though the progress of my career seems fragmentary in retrospect, there was, yet, in it a thread of consistency.
A student, fresh out of art school, I took a tiny studio in a shabby tenement near a large market area in New York City. At first, the art life was lyrical and gay. Then slowly doubts began to creep in, doubts as to my fitness for the work. Slowly I realized that art was a long apprenticeship, that recognition might not ever come. The warnings of family and friends to do something sensible added an immediate sense of failure and wasted opportunity.
It was at this point in my life, in fear and in trembling, that I made the decision which became characteristic in all subsequent crises, and was the consistent thread I spoke of.
I decided in that moment of fear and loneliness to follow the generous and idealistic urgings of my heart without questioning the cost. Lonely because my unrealized, perfect paintings were in the dream stage—a stage no one seemed to want to hear about—and grim because I realized the vast gulf between the word and the performance, I withdrew into myself and sought solace in the writings and example of all those others who dreamed reckless dreams, and drew them close about me in friendship.
I found a lesson of faith, an admonition to follow your heart for reasons the mind knows not, repeated over and over in the writings of all the great and good—in Emerson, in Thoreau, and in Beethoven’s voice of mighty affirmation;
and again in the Bible: “Seek and you shall find, knock and a door shall be opened unto you”—and, most impressively, in the studio. With each little success of endeavor was this lesson confirmed.
I learned then that I only had to give more to grow more. Out of moments of self-abasement and despair, I gained love, love of a watchful and merciful God who will not let me grovel on my knees and will lift me up if I have given all my heart in trying. The act of painting becomes a prayer in itself. I think of some lines from Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, paraphrased ever so slightly:
That he painteth well who loveth well
All things both great and small
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all
There the beliefs of Lee Jackson who teaches painting and drawing at the City College of New York.