Painting was Sam's avocation, but art certainly had greater meaning for him than a mere pastime. It seems to me that he could not call himself an artist for two reasons; a. he did not earn his living from his art, and for Sam, owing to his impoverished upbringing, only making money at an activity gave it true legitimacy and value, and b. he could never wholly commit himself to it, because ultimately, I don't think he could ever truly believe in it. On the contrary, I think he considered art, especially the modern and contemporary art which he most tried to emulate, to be the very antithesis of possessing any intrinsic value, because it had no discernible functionality or utility, not even a religious or didactic purpose as in centuries passed. Aesthetically, contemporary art was principally self-conscious and self-referential. Market forces had made art an elitist absurdity. Owning a certain kind of art - determined arbitrarily by taste-makers and marketers - was valued only for the prestige and status that it accorded, and therefore no different than owning a Dior or a Cadillac, except that Dior covered your body and Cadillac could get you from one place to the next.
|'Picasso' drawing, signed and dated 1947|
|'Sculpting' with paint|
I don't know if Sam believed that in the age of Warhol's Campbell Soup Cans and Brillo Boxes art could still be original. But I do think that he maintained a nostalgic, romantic notion of the artist as heroic, the artist as protean visionary creator whose work can have influence, transcend and leave a genuine mark on the world. Ultimately, maybe he thought his art could never rise to that lofty status, and maybe he feared that he could never be anything more than a salesman.