Painter on the Subway

On the way home, Chris and I noticed a guy who was furiously sketching into a notepad on the subway. I don’t recall all the specifics, but he had frizzy hair, earphones, and a crazy-looking black and white, checkered backpack. He kept digging into this bag, looking for various pencils and whatnot.

The whole time we rode back, this guy was sketching like mad. Shifting pencils, just going at it like someone lit a fire under his ass. From my vantage point, I got to see not only him working, but the rows of people who also noticed this activity… and were trying to catch a peek at his work.

The cynic in me calls foul, and wants to dismiss this guy as some loony. Or, at best, someone who’s starved for attention. The cynic in me writes this incident off as someone who simply wants to be viewed as an artist, and so intentionally wants to be seen drawing while taking an incredibly bumpy subway ride home.

The more I think about it though, the more I’m ashamed by that thinking. Have I grown so old and callous to have forgotten what inspiration feels like? Have I really gotten that cynical? Has it been so long since I’ve truly been moved by an idea or a thought, that it forces me to stop what I’m doing and record it for fear of losing the idea?

Isn’t that why I carry a notebook around?

This guy was really into his own thing. And so were many others on the train who saw him work. On walking out the door, the one big thing that stayed with me was how immediate, how engaging the visual arts are. If he were writing a poem or trying to plot out a story, no one else would have paid him any mind. But because he was drawing, because what he was making involved color and shape… everyone else noticed immediately, and wanted to see more.

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