Live, Love and Learn—that sounds like a modern platitude, but it’s the title of a 1937 film that just aired on TCM. Bob is an artist painting outside in nature one day when a foxhunt comes through, and glamourous Julie plows into his easel and canvass. He’s a poor artist, and she’s a rich aristocrat, and as you might guess, love is in the making. She’s ready to scrap the high life and every dime of family money for the chance to start from scratch with Bob in a humble apartment while he tries to break into the art world. They live on love and dreams.
A break comes, one quite comedic and corny, by means that Charlie Chaplin would get a laugh from. Nonetheless, it is a real break from a highly regarded art critic who gets Bob a showing in a museum where the high society folks attend in formal dress. Already, Julie is fearful and a bit snide because she fears that Bob will be lured into the strata that she wanted to exit.
What follows is a lesson in quality with an edge versus taking the safe and mediocre road that others will approve of. Bob starts doing large and expensive portraits for the socially elite and the patrons of the arts and is able to afford a luxury apartment that Julie hates. Not only that, the art critic who got Bob a break says that Bob has lost his touch and is no longer painting real art. Bob has given into the market. Bob rebuffs this and finds himself living a life that satisfies his clientele but not his own soul. Julie tries to tell him, his critic friend tries to tell him, his own soul tries to tell him.
This is an old movie but an always familiar plot. A dream of roughing it and then making it ends up in a lucrative but stale outcome. The spark is missing. The raw ingredients of what one does see get sacrificed for the predictable ingredients of what one is supposed to see. Nothing new, disturbing, fresh, or edgy is coming forth—only what is good and acceptable. Have you ever mused, “I thought this was supposed to make me happy”?
Complicating things is the fact that most jobs, even that of an artist, involve infinite repetition at the same time that growth is emerging by taking risks. This has to be true or else, “If you’ve seen one sunrise, you’ve seen them all.”
Did Bob get his soul back? I would like to tell you, but the movie could tell you better whether he does, or whether this is a story of unfortunate losses before wisdom comes. Things looked grim. I will say that I recommended the film to my wife and watched it a second time. As corny and slapstick as a few of the scenes are, the questions raised stuck with me for days because there’s a lot of Bob in us, a lot of Julie in us, and hopefully a lot of the keen critic’s eye in whatever discipline we undertake.