Art is work – and that’s great

For someone routinely engaged in challenging myself, I sure do like the easiest, laziest way. 

Take exercise. I prefer running to almost everything else because it requires the least amount of gear: it’s just me, my running shoes, and a few layers. Bicycling, on the other hand, easily frustrates me with all of its “inflating of tires” and “lubing of chains”.

Rock climbing? Absolutely not. Too much strategy and effort. I like my exercise to be straightforward to the point of monotony. I can lose myself in it. It’s my form of shutting down and actively meditating, while taking care of my physical self.

Along these same lines, painting is work. 

Career coaches advise me to think about that activity in which I lose myself. What is it that I do in my life that utterly engulfs me; where I’m so immersed that I forget about time?

Tell you what, that’s not art. 

I can lose myself in writing: the act of trailing my swirling thoughts around after they’ve been hovering and spinning for days,; of sitting down and committing descriptions to try to build a sense of what I want to share through relatively flimsy words that can (hopefully) build shared information and experience; then drafting; then re-reading, culling, culling, and culling – sometimes re-writing entirely, from a new perspective, if I didn’t quite convey what I need.

I lost myself a little bit in that last paragraph.

But painting? The way I paint is tethered to reference photographs. Meaning, unlike writing, I’m not creating from scratch from an image(s) I have only in my mind: I’m using a snippet that is very much of this world, that I’m learning from and with as I go. I have a fixed reference that I scrutinize against my work to see if I’m capturing what I see.

The art, in this case, is in the translation. I make decisions about what I commit to canvas and how. The difference between the photo reference and my completed piece is the accumulation of those decisions, collectively creating what I wish to communicate about the world. It’s something that I’ve witnessed that I want to share so badly with others that I’m willing to go through what it takes to painstakingly create a heightened experience of it through a painting.

It’s not a pure creation in that it doesn’t just pour out of me from nothingness into something, unlike writing.

Is art worth the effort it takes? Undoubtedly, yes, yes, and yes. It’s one of the hardest things I do, but the effort and work is commensurate with the amazing things I learn to see, experience, and share in the world. 

The only thing that motivates me to surmount my own intrinsic laziness is knowing that taking these steps makes my life richer and better; hopefully others’ too in small, fleeting windows into this sense of awe I have for what’s around us. Even when it’s work, what ultimately gets me to do hard things is the promise of a deeper experience of life.

Hell, if that’s what’s in it for me, I’ll even lube up a bike chain now and then.

Recently completed (and sold!) painting, “Sundown”, 8″x8″ acrylic on canvas. I guess I should come clean that SOME paintings require more work than others. This one? Less work; more pure fun. If anything, the work was in coaching myself that the sky is, in fact, that orange, that pink, that purple, that grey, and just to go for it and play with it. Glad I did.

One Comment on “Art is work – and that’s great

  1. I’m glad you did work less with this. It is awesome.

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