Van Hoople, Van Gogh, and the Oxford Comma

If you’re serious about your craft, then no detail is too small.

I’m new to painting, but I’m eager to learn not only how to execute various techniques, such as, say, impasto, which is painting with thick paint; but also when to use it, the history of it, who used it best, and just generally just what it means and connotes. Does it say poor technique because of the clunky paint? Or does it say expensive because more paint is used? Does it draw too much attention to the texture at the expense of the subject? Or does it call attention to the skill of the painter who could render the subject with such broad brushstrokes?

Van Hoople Galleon

What my husband and I refer to as our "genuine Van Hoople Galleon painting" that we picked up at an estate sale last month, with thick mid-century impasto.
Van Gogh Saint Marie
Van Gogh's Boats at Saint Marie

I want to know the language of painting in all its subtlest meanings and tonalities, and I want to have strong opinions about it. By that, I don’t mean that I want to have strong and super-judge-y judgments about other people’s work, but that I want to have strong opinions for myself in my own work.

I have a strong opinion about the Oxford comma in my own writing, and I appreciate others who have a strong opinion about it – whether it’s for it or against it – in theirs.

Oxford Comma Oil Paintings by Susannah Carson

What’s the Oxford comma? It’s the comma at the end of a list: “apples, bananas, and oranges”; “lions, tigers, and bears.”

People who DO NOT like the Oxford comma have good reasons.

  1. If there are only two items in a very short list, you say “bananas and oranges” and “tigers and bears”, not “bananas, and oranges” and “tigers, and bears”.
  2. Historically, commas replace “and” and “or”, so to write “, and” is silly and repetitive, like saying “ATM machine”.
  3. Also historically, type was painstakingly put into place for each and every letter and character, deadlines were forever looming, and both ink and paper were expensive. This wouldn’t have made a difference for a single comma, but those commas add up! Consequently, journalists to this very day are taught to take out all unnecessary commas.

Oxford Comma Oil Paintings by Susannah Carson

People who DO like the Oxford comma also have good reasons.

  1. It is never incorrect to use an Oxford comma.
  2. The Oxford comma avoids unintentional ambiguities, such as in the claim, “I’ve seen photos of my grandparents, Napoleon Bonaparte and Jane Austen.”
  3. Since sometimes those who do not use Oxford commas must use Oxford commas to resolve these ambiguities, it’s inconsistent to only sometimes (but not always) use them.
  4. Omitting the last comma in a list rhythmically reads: “apples, bananas-and-oranges,” and “lions, tigers-and-bears.”
  5. For those who read poetry and plays written in verse, there’s a history of punctuation being key to breathing, delivery, and even the meaning of a line.
  6. For those who have a background in music, the comma marks the rhythm of a thought, frequently as it reaches a strong final point.

Me? I like the Oxford comma.

That’s a bit weak. Let me revise: I love the Oxford comma to the extent that my writing completely depends on it. Take out the comma, and my sentences fall apart. My thoughts fall apart. Nothing makes sense.

And it’s not that I need a comma to be able to write, such as one needs a key to turn on a car: it’s that I write music in the key of Oxford comma, and although I could, if absolutely necessary, transpose it to another key, transposing always changes everything in subtle but important ways.

To conclude: I love that I love the Oxford comma; and I love that others have strong opinions about it; and I love my frustration when my commas are taken out; and I love that there are still people out there who care about commas in an age of autocorrect, texts, and tweets.

Oxford Comma Oil Paintings by Susannah Carson