Today, I thought I’d focus my art musings on the Art of Climbing. That is, climbing as a metaphor for the creative, artistic life.

Below is a picture of my daughter, Sophie, who, along with her husband Erik and their friend Ricky, are finishing up a week and a half of climbing in Italy’s Dolomites, today, and I’m jealous. Such beauty. 

Also, the mountains in Italy are beautiful 😉

But Colorado, where I live, isn’t any slouch in that department. Half the state is crammed full of mountains, including fifty-four that top out at over 14,000 ft. above sea level, all of which have at least one walk up route, where no technical climbing; climbing with gear like ropes, harnesses, etc., is required. I’ve climbed around thirty of Colorado’s fourteeners, and a fair number of its app. 500 thirteeners (yes, 500!) as well. But the tallest peak I’ve summited – it’s actually an active stratovolcano – is in my dad’s home country of Ecuador, with friends, in 2007: Cotopaxi, which tops out at 19,347 ft.   

Above: yours truly. Below, a photo I took at around 18,000 ft

There’s a difference between mountain climbing of the Colorado 14er and 13er variety, or even mountaineering of the Cotopaxi variety, and rock climbing, and I would say that the main difference is mental. 

Something changes in one’s mind, the first time their feet leave the solid, more or less horizontal ground and they begin to ascend a rock face that even sure footed mountain goats can’t access. Increasingly as one ascends, the mind begins to broadcast the message that you shouldn’t be here. No one is supposed to be here, to live here, save birds.

The Colorado College, where I worked for a decade, enjoys the reputation of being number one in terms of the number and quality of rock and mountain climbers it produces, as the Outside Magazine article School of Rock noted.

I had a nice conversation with Niels Davis recently. I got to know Niels when he was a studio art major at CC, and he is wired this way. As a rock climber, I’m fair to middlin’. Niels is a real climber. A really good one, that is. At CC, Niels was the editor of CC’s Alpine Journal, and among other notable climbs, has ascended the vertical face of Yosemite’s Half Dome.

Comes in handy when you need someone to help you hang your art and the attachment points are 50 feet up, as pictured below:

Note Niels in the upper left-hand corner of the pic below.

After graduating from CC, Mr. Davis interned for my friend Geoffrey Keating, the talented furniture maker (who, from time to time, also gets a little climbing action in). Also an adept artist and woodworker, Niels took over for me when I vacated my position as the 3D Arts Shop Supervisor for CC’s Art Department early in 2016. More recently, he, too, resigned, and has been augmenting his climbing skills with arborist work.

Above, Niels Davis leads the way. 

Below, Geoffrey Keating follows.

Back in the day, during an extended lull between jobs when our family’s well being was completely reliant on my income as a creative person, as it was for seven years, I took our eldest three to the nearby Garden of the Gods park and rock climbed with them nearly every afternoon for well over a month.

I still clearly recall the look of abject horror on Nan’s mother’s face as she watched her grandkids climb high on Red Spire, as I belayed from above.

Rock climbing is very much at the core of the rationale for this art blog, metaphorically.

Now, as a creative person, I’ve definitely left the solid ground. Roped to my wife, I’m attempting to climb a brand new route. 

Artists hear it all the time – boy, it’s got to be hard to make a living as an artist these days. True. Attempting to make a living and support a large family solely from one’s art is no walk in the park. But what probably looked very risky to friends and family, when I left the safety of a full-time job in 2016 to be a full-time artist, was something my “climbing partner” and I already had a lot of experience with for years prior to my working at CC.

These days, I’m off the ground a ways and can see what some of you down below, perhaps just starting out in your twenties, are thinking. 

I recall thinking the same thing, back before I was making a living as an artist. My eyes were trained on a small speck of a person high on the rock face – a creative who was making steady progress far above me. 

There’s something deep within me that wanted – that still desires – to climb thusly. To live more of a life of risk (and reward) than most parents think wise for their children. To not just dabble in art as a hobby, but to make a living from it.

Just yesterday, I was texting with my cousin, Sarah, who lives in Cincinnati with her son, Beau, who, it can finally be announced, plays the son of Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway in the major motion picture Dark Waters, which comes out later this year. Check out the trailer (after finishing this post), but for now, check this out:

Below: Beau, Nan, and me in Cincinnati last fall

Too. Cool. For. School.

Anyhow, check out a portion of the text conversation I had with Sarah:

I replied, “Ha! Do you want me to lie to him or tell him the truth? That’s pretty awesome. Tell him I want to be him!”

Beau, your uncle may be 50, but in some ways he still feels your age.

As far as “the right track” goes, while I plan to offer Beau some more practical advice than I am today, metaphorically speaking, if he pursues art as a career, he’ll be carving his own path. He’ll see his own grand vistas, experience his own valleys and setbacks, confront his own challenges. I can only tell him what, from my completely unique perspective, he ought to do to begin preparing for such a life. 

Today’s just the start of what I hope will be a fuller reply to Beau. (I hope to make the reply so full, so complete, that Sarah will have to invite me out to Cannes or New York or wherever the movie premieres. Bodyguard. Tour guide, in the case of New York. Maybe visit a few artists in their studios…)

And/or, Sarah and Beau might come visit us and go for a climb.

Getting back to the climbing metaphor, I do clearly recall being in school and desiring to be an artist one day. It’s a similar look to the one I see, when I’m climbing at the Garden of the Gods, on some of the faces of people watching from the flat, wide, safe sidewalk below. I can see, in some of their eyes, an admixture of fear and desire – some, like Nan’s mom, all fear, and others, like Beau, all desire, and believe me, I know both poles well. 

But I’ll wrap things up for today with one more photo – this one of our youngest, Nate, who turns 16 later this week (proof he survived this unretouched, unPhotoshopped pic.)

It’s a final metaphor, the photo is – it’s the desire we parents have for our children – that they would fly high – higher than we can. That they would see amazing sights, have epic adventures. In Italy’s Dolomites, say. That they might get married, perhaps, and perhaps raise children of their own, while they contend with making a living and perhaps, that they would push against the edge of extant culture. Make a difference. Make a mark. 

That they would climb high, learning the right balance of wise decisions and seemingly reckless ones, perhaps like wanting to be a rock climber one day. 

Or an actor. Or an artist.

The trailer for Dark Waters linked here.