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13 January, 2012
Why Artists PaintThere are probably as many reasons why artists paint as there are artists painting. Here is another "Top Ten" list, but unlike those of the David Letterman variety, this one is not written with tongue in cheek. The subject is too important to be taken so lightly, because it gets down into what we are as artists. We may not all agree as to the exact rankings, and there may be some I've not experienced myself, but for the most part, I think the list comes pretty close.
10. Sheer boredom. Especially when we're young, time passes SOOOO slowly. It's why we doodle when we talk on the phone, it's why we sometimes paint (or try to) when we really don't feel inspired. Itís an addiction that no other activity can quite replace. We feel the need to "output" when we've had it up to "here" with the various "inputs" of TV, family, friends, and the dozens of other voices screaming at us all day long.
9. Guilt. We have been given a marvellous gift. On top of that, we have lavished upon this gift exorbitant amounts of time, money, and effort in developing it. Not painting is such a waste.
8. To Learn. It's not the only way we learn, but it's the best way. And those of us who donít paint for this reason risk stagnation.
7. To cover up walls. Artists are fanatical about being surrounded by beauty, whether the artificial kind we put on canvas, or that we see out a window, or that we stare at bleary-eyed across the breakfast table. It may not be our "best" work we keep for our own walls, sometimes not even our most "beautiful", but it almost certainly is our "favourite".
6. As therapy. Setting aside the "compulsive" painter, we all have, at times, painted to make ourselves feel better, to get out in the open feelings, ideas, and images we could never express any other way. This is the most personal and selfish reason we paint.
5. For immortality. It's an element in the artists' daily existence that grows more and more prominent as the artist grows more and more old. Not one of us can say that we've not given some consideration as to how we and our work will be thought of by succeeding generations. Sometimes we even take steps to chronicle our daily thoughts and lives, not willing that our painting should be the only voice we leave behind.
4. For self-expression. Artists are quite expressive, (usually) both orally as well as visually. The picture may be worth a thousand words but a thousand words or so never hurt. Often both are necessary to say what the artist has on his or her mind.
3. For the money. Many would deny it, and at least as many more would place it much further down the list, but I think it is and should be near the top. More than anything else, whether we like it or not, it validates an artist's existence. It is a very important element of who we are as artists.
2. For peer approval. There are three "audiences" a painter paints for. There is no hierarchy here. One is our friends and loved ones--those to whom we are more likely to give a painting than to sell one. The second is to our buying public, the people for whom we paint "saleable" work. And the other group is made up of fellow painters, by far the most critical but "politely appreciative" of the three. These include the judge, the jury, and the witnesses at whatever court of public opinion the artist dares to appear before.
1. It's fun. There are few joys short of sex and chocolate chip cookies that can compare with the sheer ecstasy of swishing around the luscious richness of oils or the creamy, sensuous, plastic mass of acrylics. Even the unpredictable watery thinness of watercolour has a vibrant excitement that is little short of intoxicating.
In the final analysis, we do it for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, though not necessarily in that order.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
5 September 1998