By Matthew Rumph
Contributing Writer

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rob maniscalco west ashley matthew rumphRob Maniscalco (left) iinstructs a student at his West Ashley studio.

It's my strong personal belief that a huge scoop of the arts - no matter what form - can enrich your life beyond calculation. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with West Ashley artist Rob Maniscalco for a conversation. "Art is the springboard into something called creativity," he says. Maniscalco owns the Maniscalco Art Gallery, located at 5 Penn Ave. in West Ashley and is currently the artist-in-residence for North Charleston and also works with students at the School of the Arts.

Maniscalco and some of the students are planning a mural to be painted at Noisette in the naval yard. "Arts education for a kid - the development of the right brain - is ignored in most educational settings," he says. "But you don't learn to see or perceive the world. You don't learn to organize and compartmentalize visually. You don't learn to be creative without the arts."

Given this, you would think that Maniscalco has been painting all his life, but he didn't start that way. "I didn't go to art school to become an artist. I went to music school," he says. It was while he was in music school, learning orchestral clarinet, that he started painting portraits. "By the time I left music school, I was painting a lot more portraits than I was getting music gigs," he recalls. But like many in the arts, he has more than one pie to put his fingers in. He went to New York and acted for eight years on stage and television. In addition, he has a novel, The Fishfly, and a book on the creative process, The Point of Art. He also hosted the PBS show Art Beat in Detroit.

Not only is Maniscalco teaching at the School of the Arts, but he also holds classes in his studio on the banks of the Ashley River as well as teaching at the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry. His classes revolve around what he calls "the power of positive painting." He gives workshops around the country and even at the Gibbes Museum using this method. He feels obligated to teach "visual literacy" to his students, giving them the confidence to express what they see. You can also get instruction from him via his recently released DVD available from Lilliedale Publications.

As you can see there's a great deal more to being an artist than simply painting. You have to learn the business side of being an artist in addition to painting well.

But it's doubtful that we can all become nationally recognized artists. So what can we learn? You don't work at something for more than three decades without seeing a bigger picture.

"Art is a metaphor for life," says Maniscalco. This can be true for both the painter as well as the viewer. A work of art that speaks to someone on a personal level, whether that work is realist or abstract, can remove them from themselves. The ego drops away. If you have ever stood in a gallery, whether on King Street or in the National Gallery and completely lost yourself in a painting, you know this is true. All of the daily concerns that fill up our head and most of the hours of the day simply disappear. You can become as deeply immersed in a painting as in the ocean when you go to Folly Beach.

It's the same on the other side of the brush. "You have to learn to let go of your ego," says Maniscalco. He explains that the left-brain is ego and language, defining what the painter is looking at. The right brain is showing us what really is. But it's difficult to access it. The internal dialogue often gets in the way. "It can show you how to live your life," says Maniscalco. You have to give up that thing [the ego] in order to have it."

Matthew Rumph's entire conversation with Rob Maniscalco is available in mp3 form at