Two Marks by Kester Langford

Transcript of 2nd Session between Charles Balis, M.D. and Mr. Kester Langford, Tuesday, July 8, 1997 at 1:00 pm.

Mr. Langford: Hello, Dr. Balis.
Dr. Balis: Hello, Mr. Langford.
Mr. Langford: Dr. Balis, I never did ask you if you mind my calling you "Doc."
Dr. Balis: No, that's perfectly fine with me. Thanks for asking.
Mr. Langford: I don't remember whether you called me Mr. Langford or Kester last time, but I prefer Kester.
Dr. Balis: I'd be glad to call you Kester.
Mr. Langford: Well, I think we're off to a good start.
Dr. Balis: Good.
Mr. Langford: I've brought some of my marks to show you but all of the images are turned towards the wall as you can see. Still, having them with me gives me a sense of safety. I'm glad that you suggested that I bring them to show you. Everywhere I go, I end up leaving a few marks, but I never know where I'm going to be sleeping or staying from day to day sometimes. Wherever I've stayed, people have been open to letting me leave some of my marks with them. Some people even like to hang them up while they're keeping them for me. I went to three different places to bring these marks to you. Also, I felt a little stiff last time with this artificial relationship that we are developing. I'm glad that we can just relax and work things out.
Dr. Balis: What are the things that we're working out?
Mr. Langford: The name thing and being able to share my marks. I can't imagine what you can learn from them to help me, but I'm open to just about anything, as you well know. Are you ready to see them or do you have some questions for me to answer?
Dr. Balis: Well, more the point, are you ready to show them to me? Or is there a question that you would like to answer first?
Mr. Langford: You're funny Doc. Sometimes you guys make things so complicated. I don't know how this therapy thing works. Don't you have some questions about my past or about my parents? I'm just trying to be a good patient so I can get some help.
Dr. Balis: I don't have any stock questions if that's what you mean. This is an organic process. My questions are suggested by what you talk about--by what's important to you. In large part, my job is to try to help you clarify issues which are important and relevant to you.
Mr. Langford: Whoa! That puts all the responsibility on me. Why do I need you?
Dr. Balis: It's ultimately up to you to decide if I play a meaningful part in the process.
Mr. Langford: I think that it's way too early to decide. You seem like a good person with a good heart, and I like what you said about how you see your job. But I do remember that last time you mentioned you would give me some recommendations after you have gathered enough information about me. That both encourages and scares me.
Dr. Balis: Oh?
Mr. Langford: I was encouraged because I felt that you saw something in me that gave you hope and that encouraged you about my ability to break through and see the light at the end of the tunnel. But as I mulled that over, I felt uncomfortable with the thought that you could see something in me that I've had difficulty seeing in myself, especially after such a short time. I began to doubt that you saw anything and that you were just putting me on, which in turn frightened the hell out of me for a while. Whatever it takes to create something different for myself--that awareness, that skill--I believe that will be something that I'll have to develop over time. Of course, I'm in a hurry. I may be way out, on the edge of the envelope, but I know that to develop new habits takes a while. Of course I'm looking for a quick fix, but I don't believe that one exists. So, that's about it.
Dr. Balis: Hmm. Well you covered a lot of ground there. It took a lot of courage to be honest with me and I appreciate that. You're right, there are no quick fixes. The idea of our sessions together is that through our dialogue certain parts of your life, your personality, and your emotions become clearer to both of us. I may have misspoken if I led you to believe that I would be examining you and then coming up with a plan. You're the one that's going to come up with the plans and suggestions. The more time we spend together, the more trust and understanding we will develop. And it's the process of working together which will illuminate the issues which are currently troubling you.
Mr. Langford: Doc, you really surprise me. I never expected you to respond so honestly. How about we look at some of my marks?
Dr. Balis: It's your show.
Mr. Langford: That's it really. It's my show. That's what I'm learning. I painted this brushstroke with black ink on this 8 by 10 inch piece of pure rag paper. You probably noticed that I didn't sign it, yet. When someone wants to hang it up, we can discuss the signature, the color, the placement. This brushstroke has no preconceived meaning but it often symbolizes something when someone buys it or hangs it up. For me, it's many things. It represents time spent in a room painting and remembering my feelings, the sense of release and relief. The whole process symbolizes my own celebration of my own creative process. The day that I remember really doing my first mark and being totally aware that moment was the first time, I can remember feeling free. Until that moment, I had felt trapped. I couldn't seem to just relax and experience my own creative expression without criticizing my way in and out of it. I was not a happy camper.
Dr. Balis: What else does it mean to you?
Mr. Langford: It shows that I can express myself as a human being artistically, creatively.
Dr. Balis: That's a gift.
Mr. Langford: I agree. But it comes with a price. It's not very popular or I'm not a good promoter or both. I can't put it on anyone but myself. I've done everything wrong. I don't write a diary like Asimov and I can't paint worth a damn, traditionally speaking only, of course, and most of my work is in black and white, and I haven't contacted enough of the right kind of people. I've just been having fun painting brushstrokes and drawing shapes, and writing an occasional poem.
Dr. Balis: How would you describe your emotions right now.
Mr. Langford: Kind of bummed out.
Dr. Balis: What's going on?
Mr. Langford: It's unpleasant. When I think about "reality" it sucks. I feel bad because the thing that I love appears worthless to others. It's not that there aren't people who appreciate what I do, but they are so few and far between. Even $1,800 for a painting is not a lot if it's only among a dozen sold over a period of 30 years. I've decided that I produce so little that the prices must be high, so I recently went over to a friend's house and told him that his 4' x 5' acrylic on canvas that he was hanging in his living room now had a price tag of $35,000. I realized then that things had changed and something extraordinary was going to happen. You know it's really a fluke that I'm here, don't you, Doc?
Dr. Balis: You mean, from SII?
Mr. Langford: Yeah. But it's pretty interesting. I worked as a proof reader off and on for several years, maybe five. Even though I haven't worked in over six months, I'm still covered under some residual insurance benefit.
Dr. Balis: I'm losing your train of thought. I need to go back and connect some of the things that you said. You told your friend to quote a $35,000 price when someone asks about the painting. Therapy is being paid for by the insurance company and you're unhappy because you don't think enough people value your work. Does that sum it up?
Mr. Langford: Reality sucks. If I were a cobbler, I would have shoes to make, sell, and repair. If I were a baker, I could bake fine breads and pastries and earn that way. But I'm a mark maker and I haven't made a place for myself that earns a decent living--some kind of living, at least.
Dr. Balis: Many artists in our society producing fine art never really earn a living as artists.
Mr. Langford: Thank you for saying that. In fact it's funny, but I was just about to say how glad I was that you hadn't made that particular generalization about artists in our society. But then, when you said it, it felt like I was hearing it for the first time, and I have to admit a distinct pleasure in having you include what I do in your definition of "fine art."
Dr. Balis: Well, obviously I'm not an expert. But to me, what you do is clearly fine art, and you are an artist. I realize that you're still working on that one. What do you think is keeping you from making the transition from "mark maker" to "artist?"
Mr. Langford: Although it would give me pleasure, I don't have the gift that lets me draw and paint according to the art school model of what artists should be able to do. Most people think that if you don't draw well, you're not an artist. I didn't go to art school and all of the classes in life drawing and drawing and painting methods that I have taken privately have not been as much fun as when I'm alone expressing myself artistically and creatively. I think that I have a right to my own creative expression and that I should be able to sell it and make a living.
Dr. Balis: I don't know much about the art business, but making art is only half of it. You also have to sell art.
Mr. Langford: It's just another thing that I can feel bad about, because it's been happening for thirty years. With regards to the business of selling my art, does lazy ring a bell?
Dr. Balis: Yes it does. By choosing the word "lazy," you're subtly putting yourself down. It's okay to move at your own pace. Now you're considering picking up the pace with respect to the business of selling art.
Mr. Langford: I don't want to get too excited but this is sounding pretty good. I really appreciate your statement about going at my own pace. That's cool. Thank you for pointing out how subtly I can put myself down out of habit. That's a mind blower. This is getting more interesting all the time, Doctor Balis.
Dr. Balis: What's the interesting part?
Mr. Langford: Your ability to help me see how the words that I choose affect how I feel. I won't be using the word lazy any more. Thank you. It just occurred to me that if I were to make a list of people to contact and get into the habit everyday of doing something towards my goal of selling my paintings, then I would be encouraging myself every day, in a way, don't you think?
Dr. Balis: It sounds probable. And it sounds constructive.
Mr. Langford: Yes. When I focus on all the negative stuff, it gets me down. Part of me believes that I don't have a right to be myself. I know that can't be right. I want to turn things around for myself because I feel great most of the time, but those lows are killers. Anyway, right now I'm feeling very good because I know what I'm going to do today and for the next week. I always take a "let's see what happens" attitude. It gives me breathing space. Realizing that making marks and the business of selling my work are two different skills, I can proceed with new energy and insight. That's amazing and so simple.
Dr. Balis: You mentioned earlier that you write a poem now and then. Do you have any poems with you that you'd be willing to share?
Mr. Langford: Sure. But I have to warn you. My poems aren't like any others that you've seen. First, they all have only seventeen syllables and second they are not want-to-be Japanese Haiku. They are sound poems of seventeen syllables.
Dr. Balis: Do you have any with you?
Mr. Langford: Well, I don't have any with me but I remember quite a few by heart.
Dr. Balis: Okay.
Mr. Langford: The names of the poems are usually represented by their first word. Ready? "Life slips by my dreams of jewels and leaves shining pearls smiling wisdom."
Dr. Balis: Would you repeat that again, a little slower please.
Mr. Langford: "Life slips by my dreams of jewels and leaves shining pearls smiling wisdom."
Dr. Balis: You chose to read that poem first. Why?
Mr. Langford: I wrote it 26 years ago. I remember what it's about even now. It's a code to say that although I have not succeeded in attaining riches, I have been showered with a gift of clarity that both grounds me to what I think of as routine reality and it also propels me beyond my own feelings of limitations. It is truly a beautiful thing when wisdom visits you. And I'm not being cute. I really mean it. I feel very fortunate to continue to live in a way that promotes insight and wisdom at times. It's another great reason to stay with the great fight of learning how to live in a way that is meaningful and true to oneself. I know that I'm unduly obsessed, but I know there's some good in that and I don't want to leave that good behind. I want to keep it with me.
Dr. Balis: That seems like a good place to end our session today, okay?
Mr. Langford: This session was much different from what I expected. Today was a pleasant surprise. I'm going to bring the marks that I haven't shown you today to our next session with a couple more poems, too. Would that be okay?
Dr. Balis: That will be fine, Kester. Is next week at this time still good for you?
Mr. Langford: Until the insurance runs out. I'll see you then.
Dr. Balis: Goodbye, then.
Mr. Langford: Goodbye.
Arrow, Straight, Left, Earlier Arrow, Straight, Right, Later

Button to Dr. Balis' Notes Doctor Balis' Notes on this Session

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