I paint because I am a painter
Such a simple statement can smack of both arrogance and evasiveness - I paint because I am a painter. We would likely look questioningly if someone said…
“I log because I am logger”
“I build because I am a builder.” or
“I audit because I am an auditor.”
Logging, building and auditing do not usually carry the same romanticism as being a painter. Yet all three have methods, approaches, and skilled practices that require a certain amount of creativity and problem-solving to do outstandingly well - just like painting. The learning curve for all of these is endless and no two days are ever exactly the same.
But painting? Oh, if I had a dollar for every time someone said “at least it gives you something to do.” Imagine “the joy of the painter fluttering away her day in the sun with a brush in her hand dabbing at a canvas” while the rest of the world is working for a living. “How lucky to be following her passion” with no need to engage in the daily grind of survival. Must be nice! To be frank, these kinds of sentiments are enough to make the hair on this painter’s neck stand up like a German Shepard facing off an intruder! If my sense of politeness and decorum didn’t have such a firm grip on the collar of my indignation…. well, let’s just say it wouldn’t exactly be good for business and finding homes for paintings! To avoid boredom or to keep busy or play away the day, I certainly would NOT choose becoming a full-time landscape painter with a gallery to run! Nope! Wouldn’t even make the bottom of my list of choices.
This is why a painter might reply to your question about why they painted whatever they are painting with “I paint because I am a painter.” You see, there is no whining about how difficult it is and no apology for the effort in this statement. It is meant to be jarring - to strip away any romanticized idealism and lack of seriousness in the practice of being a painter…. and yes, you are going to pay dearly for the work, just like you do when engaging the services of any other trades or white collar professional. This is because landscape painting and painting in general IS HIGHLY SKILL WORK - if it is to be done well. However, if this work IS done with excellence, the viewer will hardly ever, if at all, notice the painter’s struggle or their lifetime of observing, studying and practice. We are left only with what is often described as MAGIC on the finished canvas. Part of this mystification, the painters themselves must take responsibility for contributing to the mystique. Painters love to share their best, most exciting moments, rather than the times when we struggle, are uninspired and still showing up in the studio or when a work fails miserably. So, it is no wonder others view the work as a way to fill the painter’s time and something other than “real work”. Of course, being a woman painter who is just over 60 years old doesn’t help either but let’s explore that aspect in another issue. The impression we painters often leave in our sharing of the painting process is one of pleasure, freedom and yes, leisure. With this approach, how is the viewer or observer to know otherwise?
Part of why I publish the A Brush With Life newsletter is to keep the hard work visible, without totally shattering our illusionary idealism of a life as a painter. I feel this fuller picture of the life as a landscape painter is my duty and responsibility to the paintings as much as to the painting practice itself. How am I doing so far? Can you hold both constructs in your mind at the same time? Can you hold the reality that painting is skill work AND also that there is pure joy (most of the time) in doing this work? That, in being a landscape painter, there is excitement, the unexpected, the magic and the discipline and hard work of a solid painting practice all in one?