Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why Do We Paint?

If you, like many others, wonder why we paint, perhaps it's time to follow the voice of the Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki, when he says:

"The most important thing is to find out what is the most important thing."

Sometimes you have so many ideas for paintings, you cannot possibly paint them all. At other times, you need to step back and decide what brings you joy. If you painted every day (or every week) and never showed your paintings to anyone, would you still have the same joy in painting? Would it take you in a different direction? Would you stop painting? Is the sharing one of the biggest aspects of the art? Not the selling, but the sharing - on blogs, websites, emails, classes.

Find out what is the most important thing, says Master Suzuki.

But then, the great painter, Alice Neel says:

"You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is,because this is all part of experience, and the more experienceyou have, the better it is...unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far."

Ms. Neel seems to be saying it's all about the journey, not the destination. The journey won't always be spring flowers and gentle rains to wash away the dirt. It could be difficult, dangerous and filled with stress. Do you keep on going? Or do you sit down in the middle of the path and cry like a little girl? Maybe a good cry is just what you need!

Each day in this journey differs. Up, down, happy, sad, complicated, simple, easy, hard...pushing through may mean the difference between doodling and true art from a human heart and mind.


Joan Sandford-Cook said...

My, we are thinking deeply. I just paint because I have to - its part of life and when I dont there is something missing... but yes blogging adds to the venture when one can share with other artists.
Loved the previous post with the grapevine and how you achieved it.

Watercolors by Susan Roper said...

I use Alice Neel's quote in my booklet I write for each beginning watercolor class I teach, it seems to apropos for urging people to practice, practice, practice!

Chris Beck said...

Wise words. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

debwardart said...

Good question - I'm sure you will get lots of different reasons.
As usual, my answer is simple (kind of like my mind!) - because I enjoy the process, it's fun and sometimes I get a really good painting out of it! I'm tempted to say that selling (i.e. $$) prompts me, except that very few ever sell, yet I do enter shows and competitions. Entering competitions allows me to see how my work compares to others. Entering shows lets me see and sometimes hear firsthand how people react to my paintings.

Angela said...

I love these posts that really give me something to think about.

I would definitely paint even if I couldn't show them to anyone - what compells me to paint, mostly, is watching different colors swirl together and/react with the water. But, when something really interesting has happened, I'd be really frustrated if I wasn't able to show anyone - the same way I am when I find anything interesting and there's no one to show.

And, boy, those failures would really feel like failures if I couldn't put them out there and hear all the "oh, it isn't so bad"s that people are obligated to give.

Seriously good post though. These are just the sort of questions I need to sort through right now. I feel like I'm on the brink of changing something in my art, but I'm not sure what. Maybe this'll help me figure it out.

Lost in wonder said...

Good food for thinking Rhonda,

My instant answer after reading the title of your entry was "because it's good for the soul", then I kept reading, you've made me give a good thought about the influence of being able to share what's been painted, and indeed it's a given that it's something that has helped me grow a lot in the past years, but then I've been thinking again about the time when I didn't share the drawings I did and asked myself if I would stop painting if I couldn't share the pics anymore, and I've realized that my answer to your title question hasn't changed after all, I kept drawing before I even thought about showing my doodles to anyone and I'd keep painting in the future even if I couldn't show them to any one so, why do I paint? because it's good for my soul, definitely.

This entry is the best I've seen in quite some time, thanks!

RHCarpenter said...

Thank you all so much for your comments. Joan, I'm glad you liked the grapes - a fun exercise but I'm not sure it's a truly finished painting yet.
Susan, that quote from Alice Neel just makes me laugh but it's so true - sometimes you think you are beating your head against the wall of discontent, frustration, blocked images that won't come from your head to your brush!
Chris, always a pleasure to see you here :)
Deb, you are not simple! I have a feeling your complexity is hidden behind a simple facade you show to the world :)
Angela and Teresa, so often we have that urge to paint and yet we judge our outcome, too. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could be free of the judgment for a while - you need some of it, of course, to learn and grow, but if we could just be in the moment of that brush touching paper and pigment and water spreading!!! What a joy it would be.
Perhaps I'm getting too zenlike but I've definitely let my dharma practice lapse and I'm getting back to it and trying to get back to the moment that I am in instead of searching for something else all the time.
Thanks again, for the comments, everyone!!

Cathy Gatland said...

This is a good and wise reminder, Rhonda - I get overwhelmed with possibilities - and the blogging/sharing side sometimes overwhelms the painting/creating side. So what IS the most important thing? Hmm.

RHCarpenter said...

Cathy, each person has to determine what is the most important thing - for each person it will be very different :)