Paul Greenberg

LITTLE ROCK -- When a retrospective of Carroll Cloar's works opened here, I asked a local art dealer how he would explain Carroll Cloar's appeal.

"Appeal or success?" he wanted to know.

Appeal. Success comes and goes. Like popularity. Or any other fad. Success is the thing that does not stay. It is an unworthy consideration. If it is based only on the desire for success and nothing more.

Appeal stays. It may even endure -- if it is Carroll Cloar's kind of appeal. Even grow. As his appeal does. Because it expands to something far beyond success. That is why there is a point at which almost any kind of endeavor becomes an art, and those who practice it artists. As with a fine surgeon or diagnostician, craftsman or engineer, teacher or scientist.

. .

It's been said that art is science in the making, though the saying always struck me as backwards: Science is art in the making. It can be only the first formulaic steps toward intuition, toward an instinctive understanding.

For an example of science perfected into art, see anyone described as a natural in his profession, whether it's fixing shoes or playing second base. Or anyone who has a calling and responds to it wholly. Not just preachers are called.

Then there are those pitiables who don't so much develop their talent as exploit it. The politician who is interested only in success, and measures it only by elections and re-elections won. The scientist who is interested only in the prizes and patents, the degrees and prestige, rather than the awe of discovery. The businessman or inventor who is interested only in profit, rather than the chance to revolutionize or rationalize an entire arc of the economy, the way Edison illuminated whole cities and Steve Jobs changed the way we communicate with each other around the world.

. .

There is the painter who produces only for the market and the moment, and the one who can turn a moment into an eternity, and lets us see it. A painter like Carroll Cloar.

Yes, artists have their passing phases. They wax and wane like the rest of us. As did Carroll Cloar. What saved him, and saved him for us, was an integrity, a wholeness that he never let go of. What he knew, he knew. What he didn't know, he had the sense to leave alone, even if he might dabble at it briefly. He kept coming home -- to home ground, literally. This is called growth, soul growth, and not just development.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.