Cultural Quarterly Magazine Online

Ways to Wisdom
by Samantha Rojas

Rumi says "the middle path is the way to wisdom." For myself I have always shirked the idea of middle path. However, while taking a good, long look at artist Karl 'Jerry' Craig, I begin to rethink.

Art for the sake of art, not for the sake of money, is the thought that came to me, and stayed with me throughout the two-hour-long interview. Sitting in Craig's studio, a lifetime of art surrounding us, "I have always painted," he says, "since I was a child." No matter what else has been going on - and there has been a lot - he has always painted; and definitely not all in the 'middle of the road.'

He has had his paintings, bought and displayed and commissioned. He has been published and achieved success in a series of children's books - and honored by a Sheik of Iran with a medal for his children's books; and had these books translated into Finnish. Additionally and substantially, he has been recognized and sought by the Jamaican government and the British and Jamaican academia, for his consulting, directing, leadership and development of a Jamaican art school and University of the West Indies Education Training Colleges; he has sold multiple murals and paintings to the social elite in the Caribbean and exhibited in USA, Canada, Japan, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, and Botswana, just to name a few.

"As an artist, I create. I have to work. I can't stop. It's as simple as that.

 I love it when people like my work and want to buy it, but I am not doing it because of that.

I am doing it, simply because it is who I am"

Karl Craig

His work has been purchased by Prime Ministers of Jamaica for presentation to President Regan of the USA and President Nyrere of Tanzania. He was also commissioned on two occasions, by the Government of Jamaica to paint Easter Eggs for the White House Collection. He attended the Camberwell School of Art in London; the London School of Printing; Goldsmith College of Art; and obtained the National Diploma in Design from the prestigious St. Martin's School of Art. He attended the Maryland Institute College of Art in the U. S. A., where he graduated with the Master of Fine Arts Degree. And all the while, he has been painting.

Yet Craig never painted for a specific purpose - for a specific audience - market - price - goal - mission - masterpiece - exhibition. This is a man who has come to Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute (AEI) at the age of 77 (he looks like 55) and he is happy, and searching; searching about how to do all those things! He is happy with his life - his family - his painting - his grandchildren. He has lived a full life - and it shows. And he is still doing art for the sake of art. "I wanted to spend these golden years doing only what I wanted to do. Which is painting and gardening and my grandchildren; I am about to be a grandfather again, he says." And yet, off he has gone to Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute in Fort Lauderdale.

AEI, he feels is excellent in showing the details of the business of art. "I am never good at self- promotion," says this multi-faceted businessman. This is true of many artists. "AEI opened my eyes to how you can really use your art to make money. I never thought of art in that way. As an artist, I create. I have to work. I can't stop. It's as simple as that. I love it when people like my work and want to buy it, but I am not doing it because of that. I am doing it, simply because it is who I am."

Today, the Edna Manley College for Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, Jamaica now has a School of Art, a School of Dance; a School of Drama and a School of Music - all on the same campus; the only one of its kind in the Caribbean. Some might credit this one-stop-shop, to Craig. Between obtaining his Bachelors degree and before moving on to his Master's Craig created the Departments of jewelry, textile, fiber arts, arts education, history of art, photography and an additional component to the basic print making that was already there.

While studying for his Master's degree, Craig did a lot of work with UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the Organization of American States (OAS) as a consultant, and was offered a job upon graduation. Instead, his involvement with a birthing art school in Jamaica was about to deepen, when Jamaica's Prime Minister Edward Seaga on a mission to develop arts and crafts in Jamaica, after a decade of political unrest, commissioned one of his ministers to bring Karl Craig home in order to develop Things Jamaican. The annual salary for the job as the Director of Development of Craft was one-third of the salary for the job offered with the OAS. However, with his children having moved back to Jamaica with his ex-wife, and not wanting to be an absentee father, he accepted the position to head the newly developing art school in Jamaica.

After two years in this role which he credits with opening his eyes a lot, to what could be done with art, he began tiring because of the politics involved. Although when the University of West Indies initially approached him to accept a position that would develop an art component at the University, he declined, being committed to the expansion goals and other things just then; and recommended instead a colleague and dear friend. With the money was not enough and the politics, disenchanting, Craig didn't turn down the offer a second time, when the same colleague that he had recommended, called him and said she was leaving to pursue her PhD and asked if he knew anyone who might be interested in the job at the University His answer: "Yes! Me!"

The University the of West Indies, Department of Education, as a Senior Lecturer, in charge of all training colleges in the English speaking Caribbean, based in Kingston, Jamaica, is where Karl Craig spent the next 19 years of his life, in his longest standing job, to date. He stayed there until he retired.

And still, Painting all the time.

At this point in the interview I am curious again, about the goal, the artist's masterpiece, so I ask him, "What is the ultimate goal of an artist? In the long run, you want to be prolific, you want to be painting, you want to be recognized, and you want people to appreciate your work?"

Craig responds, "All those things have already happened to me." And now I know this is true, from the last two hours of conversation.

"I have a lot of success," he says. "Still I am never satisfied. And I think THAT keeps me young. I am young at heart." Karl Craig is always hungry for life and art! Maybe this hunger is the fountain of youth.

"I don't mind getting old," he says. "All my life, I've wanted white hair, and my hair refuses to turn grey!" he chuckles, while holding his thick, full, healthy-looking head of brown hair. "This is just taking too long." There is something to be said for his life masterpiece and his frame of mind. A series of textured choices might create a masterpiece on the canvas called life. Not one painting, one award, or one commission; it may be a masterpiece called 'a life well-lived.'

About selling his work and becoming famous, Craig says "You need to know interior decorators; be able to sell yourself. And I am BAD at doing that. You need to push and sell and never give up."

Instead he has made Rumi's life of the middle of the road, replete with distinctions and distinctive choices - a masterpiece created by tailoring his needs towards family, and art, and education. It has brought him youth of spirit and heart; and a lifetime of painting. It seems Rumi may be right about the way to wisdom.

 

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