Not every (any?) painting I paint is going to be a good painting. Some of them are really bad paintings, which is annoying because that stuff isn’t free, and then I have to figure out how to reclaim what I can from the disaster. 😉 Many of my worst paintings have been my best teachers, teaching me something beyond technique, composition, color.

I don’t paint from any particular artistic theory. So much of my life was spent in the classroom “indoctrinating” young people about the best way to write this or that, that I don’t always want to know the best way to do anything unless it’s mechanical stuff. I LOVED fresco school. I’ve spent maybe years of my life looking at paintings all over the world. I don’t think that’s a bad school. That said, I appreciate criticism. My eyes are not necessarily the best eyes to look at my work.

I want to be taken seriously even though I know I’m not painting the Sistine Chapel, that maybe painting is “just a hobby,” even if I don’t see it as a hobby. Still, my two neighbors have “hobbies” that involve them tearing down antique cars (Willys Jeeps and 50’s era T-Birds) and rebuilding/restoring them. Just because something’s a hobby doesn’t make it unserious or unreal.

Painting gives something to my life for which I’ve waited all this time.

A lifetime of painting — and looking at paintings — has taught me that most paintings are not just a representations of an image or moment in time — emotional and physical. They can also be a journey, certainly into becoming a better painter, but sometimes even more. At a certain point I find I have to surrender to the work in much the same way as I learned, in my fiction writing, that the lives of the characters were more important to the story than my little “idea” of who they were supposed to be.

While most of the work I do now doesn’t seem to have a big connection to my subconscious mind, it happens that a painting can. I’ve painted at least two (I think probably more) that have proven to be windows not only into what I’m thinking (without telling myself I’m thinking that) but, bizarrely, into my future. One seems to have been a very accurate prediction of where I would someday live (here) and what I would do here (grow beans?)

Ancestral Memory

I painted Ancestral Memory two years before I came to the San Luis Valley. It was done from a sketch I did during a presentation at a conference I was attending in Colorado Springs. At the time I lived in California. The painting depicts a landscape and sunset from my imagination. Or is it something beyond that?

Turns out that the landscape in the painting is exactly where I live now, looking south. If I go out of town where I can see clearly, I see that. I’ve even seen that exact sunset many times, here, where I live.

There are hundreds of thousands of artists in the world right now and millions before them. I have — at times — wondered why I keep doing it. This is a culture where our effort should have a “purpose.” I don’t have to paint. I could sell all my supplies, put a door on the studio and have a third bedroom. That leads to the question, “Why do anything?”

“Why go to the North or South Pole when this has been done before? Why on Earth climb Everest when more than 600 people already have? Why write poems when so many have already been written? Why compose music? Every age has its own particular form of expressing the creative urge and giving vent to vitality. Those of us who aren’t artists must try to make something else out of life…” (Skiing into the Bright Open Liv Arnesen)

At a moment of discouragement, I couldn’t have found anything better to read.

Liv Arnesen was the first woman to ski solo to the South Pole. I admire her so much. I’d love to have lived that life, skiing all the time, going on all kinds of frozen adventures, and here she is writing about not being an artist. Life demands meaning, and it is probably up to each of us to create it for ourselves. We probably never fully know why we do what we do, and we certainly don’t know where the fruits of our efforts will affect, inspire, another person.

I believe (though it might sound kind of pretentious) that all of this creative effort over the millennia forms an informative and lovely time-tapestry. I think the Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai said it pretty well

Visiting Han-Tan: The Dancers at the Southern Pavilion
Li Bai


They sang to me and drummed, the boys of Yen and Chao,
Lovely girls plucked the sounding string.
Their painted cheeks shone like dazzling suns;
The dancer’s sleeves shook out like blossoming boughs.
Bringing her wine, I approached a handsome girl
And made her sing me songs of Han-tan.
Then lutes were played, and coiling away and away
The time fell earthward, dropping from the gray clouds.
Where is the Prince of Chao, what has he left,
But an old castle-moat where tadpoles breed?
Those three thousand knights that sat at his board,
Is there one among them whose name is still known?
Let us make merry, get something in our own day,
To set against the pity of ages yet unborn.

trans. Arthur Waley

3 thoughts on “Why Paint?

    1. Thank you — especially the lines from Ecclesiastes AFTER the famous ones. 🙂

      ….”no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. 12 I know that there is no good in them (the days of a person’s life), but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. 13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.

      Liked by 1 person

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