Saturday, July 25, 2009

Why Paint?

Painting takes me in emotional cycles. Have you ever had moments of doubt where you plaque yourself with annoying questions such as, “Why am I painting?” or “Why bother?”. Those moments can strike at any time. I can be painting the best work of my life, have a steady flow of sales, and still come to those moments where I wonder if I really should be looking for that full time job. Every single one of my artist friends has come to those moments at various times in their lives too. Fortunately for them and me, it usually doesn’t last too long. All we need to do is check in with a fellow artist, whine a bit and tell them our thoughts, and we get the usual burst of laughter and a pat on the back. They take us lightly because we have all been there. Cycles are important. Each time I question why I am painting, I cycle back to a clearer more potent answer, and continue painting with revived fervor. Perseverance, I think, is the most important ingredient in success as a professional artist. Not to let those down times keep us from getting back in the saddle, and continuing to paint.

For those of you who were born before the 60’s, you must remember psychedelic trance-induced author Carlos Castaneda. I recently dusted off an oldie but goodie “A Separate Reality”, where I fell into a trance myself over a part where his guru/teacher Don Juan tells him that everyone has their own predilection. And this predilection is what each of us uses to “know”. Don Juan’s idea of knowing is more of an inner truth, a yearning to keep evolving, rather than an intellectual search. For instance, a fellow sorcerer in the book dances when he wants to learn a new truth… “and he dances with all he has when he wants to ‘know’.” Don Juan’s predilection is to “see” or use his eyes to glimpse alternative worlds. I love the idea of using your predilection to evolve by throwing yourself into it. That is when it hit me that painting is my predilection, my way or tool to evolve, to “know”.

While painting, and also involved in the business or career aspect of making a living as an artist, its easy to fall into the trap of thinking we are painting to create products. Or we try too hard to make something truly unique that will stand out in the crowd. I believe that a painting traces and records all our thoughts, aspirations, desires. If we think about the painting as a product for a specific market, and think about this obsessively while painting, the work may lose its spirit, and take on a restricted feel. If we try too hard to be different, the work may end up doing the opposite, by losing our individuality and soul.

I like using this idea from Castaneda, using the act of painting to evolve, to be a better person, to create in the larger sense. Perhaps some of this will rub off in the work and be an inspiration, not just another product.