Published on May 1, 2022
“Why paint?” is an important question that, I believe, everyone who intends to paint regularly and seriously must answer for themselves. Once the answer is given it can provide direction and meaning to the craft; it also helps to choose subjects for one’s paintings.
I believe there are mainly two motivations for painting: the process and the result. The dichotomy is not new, and indeed is shared by many other activities. In the case of painting, the process is strictly personal; it is about meditative concentration and enjoyment obtained through observation, channeling of visual content through oneself, and expressing it in the medium of preference. The result, on the other hand, is about calibrating one’s craft, showing what one had in their head to the world and, occasionally, enjoying the world’s reaction.
Both motivations are important, but not in the same way. If we are to compare them, we will need something more fundamental to gauge them against. I think this begs the question about the way one wants to live their life. As lofty and philosophical as it may sound, I think there is no way around it if we are to be honest with ourselves. As the starting point, let’s take this uncontroversial idea: organize your life in such a way that you experience interest, satisfaction, and the urge to continue. If you have these things, it doesn’t really get much better than that. Then, if we focus on the process, it is quite easy to keep oneself engaged and satisfied through little improvements and personal victories. I argue that it is never the case with the result. The result is useful for determining the direction of the next step in order to keep that personal artistic journey interesting, but otherwise it is always flawed and never quite perfect.
When the emphasis is on the world’s reaction, it is indicative of one’s personal vulnerability and the need for validation, which is unlikely to be fully satisfied through results of one’s work anyway. For example, when someone says that they need to be “different” in order to stand out from the crowd, it is clear that they are governed by the result (the world’s reaction) rather than the process. This is a morbid and brittle position to be in. Not only one predicates one’s satisfaction and happiness on something uncertain and, frankly, quite random, one also strays from the organic process of self-discovery.
I believe that self-discovery is a synonym for life. And as with life you actually want it to be a long and captivating process. With the healthy attitude where focus is on the process, there is really no reason to treat art differently from anything else or make a big thing out of it. Much in the same way as one needs to breathe and eat, one needs to paint, and similarly to tasty food or good exercise painting enhances life’s depth.
But let’s return to the role of the result. If one is practicing their craft regularly and for a long enough period of time chances are they are heading towards a plateau of sorts in their abilities and in the way they do their craft. This is what I would call a personal style, a kind of fingerprint. I’m convinced that as little as possible should be consciously done to make one’s style distinct and recognizable because it might as well be pushed away from its natural trajectory. Of course, style is going to be influenced by all kinds of things, but these things should be what makes the artist who they are, not artificial concoctions.
This brings me to the topic of subjects and authenticity. I believe that the world needs more authentic art and that kind of art comes to life when the artist is not afraid to focus on their lives as they are instead of reproducing something that is considered beautiful or important by others. For example, if you like painting nature it is far better to move closer to the countryside and paint what you see around your location than to use references found on the internet. The principle is simple: paint what actually makes up your life and you will find that you appreciate your life more, while the result is going to be more true and interesting. It is a win-win situation both in terms of the process and the result.