Why I am Not a Painter

Wandering around the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art with a friend yesterday (in an effort to escape DC’s 102 degree heat), we came upon Mike Goldberg’s “Sardines,” which took me back to discovering Frank O’Hara, a friend of Goldberg’s. O’Hara, now famous for his “I did this, I did that” poetry, with its informal snapshots of daily life in New York, was also a friend of many painters and modern art maven at MOMA.

His light touch gets me further into what modern art was about than pages and pages of Clement Greenberg (although I’m a Greenberg fan too.)

Why I Am Not a Painter

Frank O’Hara

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

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