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Artemisia Gentileschi: Samson and Delilah, c. 1630–1638
"Experience doesn't come from cramming for the exam …"

Our painter Curt mixed the primer, thinning it as well as adding something to improve its viscosity to make brush marks less likely. I had prepped the entry hall baseboards, completely removing the rubber-based paint and sanding them smooth. I knew how to prep and paint, but under Curt's tutelage, I felt like an amateur. I asked if one of my old reliable brushes would work and he frowned before trundling out to his truck to fetch a more proper one. He did everything but tie my shoes for me as he handed me my paint bucket and a handful of rags. In any other context, I would have just painted those boards without thinking very much about technique or even outcome. I mean, I was just painting, no big anything for anyone. I knew how to paint. Or did I? Curt's fifty years of professional painting far surpassed my amateur experience. He even understood the underlying science behind every step in the prepping and repainting process. It wasn't just a hobby for him, as it had always been for me. I realized that my innocent ignorance far exceeded my knowledge about this subject, and so I quietly acquiesced to Curt's superior understanding.

I hesitated before applying that first brush stroke.
I felt clumsy and inept, uncertain if I was doing anything right, uncertain if I could even discern what right might entail. I second guessed myself before even attempting a first guess. I felt the full weight of my ignorance. I realized that my painting knowledge had largely been tacit. I could not have explained how I did it to anyone else, and not even to myself. I just painted, or always had before. I'm sure that in the beginning, I hesitated, but later, I grew into just doing it, pretty much without question. I fancied myself careful, though I was realizing that I had always followed mere rituals, convinced that they were proper without really knowing if they were. My choice of brushes had been more according to imagined knowledge rather than according to any actual understanding. I had always before followed a process of my own devising without realizing the depth of my ignorance advising. I watched myself hesitate some more.

I could, without much prompting, start questioning my whole philosophy of living, which suddenly seems to have been mirroring how I went about painting. I'm not a know-nothing, but more a know-little about most things. I rely upon a sincere attitude, as if a pure heart might somehow influence results in the absence of actual knowledge. I do not know how to write, but I write anyway, making up my process as I go along, probably doing it wrong if I were to ask a genuine expert how it's supposed to be done. I don't ask. I don't really want to know if knowing might upset my tenuous process. I cook with the same sincere carelessness, unaware of the underlying sciences of flavors, textures, and techniques. I muddle through. I probably even read wrong, since I taught myself to read long before my first grade teacher tried to teach me how. I didn't listen, figuring I'd already mastered that subject. Even then, I was an arrogant little bastard. I hesitated some more, setting up those boards on the saw horses, informed by my slow, unstudied ignorance of what I was actually doing. I'd become self-conscious, hardly an adequate replacement for enlightenment or knowledge.

I'll call what I employ Knowletch, a backhanded version of genuine knowledge, studded with rumor, innuendo, and deeply imbedded misunderstanding. I hold onto this possession like a five year old might hold a kitten, in ways that should upset anyone really knowing how that's done. The kitten can defend itself, I figure, and the five year old possesses a pure heart. The damage done should be minimal. The absent skill probably doesn't matter and both the kitten and the boy are learning better, or might be learning. Whether simple experience will prove adequate over any longer run seems irrelevant at the moment. Both boy and kitten will very likely survive the initial ignorant period. I was a poor student and I realize that I remain the opposite of a scholar. I have at times reveled in my belligerent ignorance when confronting opportunities to learn better, insistent on continuing to exercise my deeply ingrained patterns of behavior. I might just be a lost cause where acquiring deeper knowledge is concerned. An insistent amateur, I question whether I really want to know better. I probably don't.

I managed to get started painting, hypercritical of my effort. I saw brush strokes where none might have been, curiously unable to determine the quality of what I was doing. Curt has pointed out dimensions I'd never bothered to see before. My world had become more mysterious. I persisted. I came back to scrutinize the result, not really certain about what I was seeing. Were those brush strokes or grain? Ineptness or fine? I cleaned up the brush and returned back into the house. Curt was priming woodwork, cutting edges without apparent thought, his deep knowledge and experience obvious in his skill. I, a curious five year old, ignorant and knowing it too well. I spent some time referencing Google, trying to find an instructional video to inform me how I really should approach refinishing my doors other than by intuition. Suddenly aware of the shallowness of my knowledge, I caught myself trying to quickly cobble together more experience to supplement my ingrained Knowletch. I found nothing there to supplement my ignorance, probably because I didn't know how to properly ask the questions to which I was seeking answers. The depths of my ignorance suddenly seem bottomless. Experience doesn't come from cramming for the exam, but here I am.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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