Yesterday while painting I got to thinking about what exactly this practice of art making is all about. It is such an odd activity. I am always trying to summarize, make sense in the larger context of my life what it is exactly that I am doing. I know art making engages me but I also know that it can be really hard too. Why do I keep doing this?
Making art is a practice. The way I interpret this is, in a way, that I am practicing living. Making art is a parallel activity to regular life that, at least for me, teaches and informs me about how to live and participate in it more fully. Like getting a practice serve in ping-pong before you actually start scorekeeping, making art lets you play with what you desire and find meaningful. It gives you extra time to figure it all out. In the process one makes mistakes, goes in wrong directions, and experiences all manner of emotions.
The problem is there are just many, many, things floating around in one’s head that confuse, and sidetrack what is important, or essential to include in your work.
In Greg McKeown’s fabulous book “Essentialism, the Disciplined Pursuit of Less”, the author details the importance of personal discernment in one’s life. This is not entirely about choosing things carefully so that you can fit everything into your life. Interestingly, he stresses that we need to be discerning so that we can do LESS. In other words, an “essentialist” thinks that almost everything is nonessential. There are, however, a few things that are essential and warrant our focus and selection. Most everything out there is a 1 or 2 but there are, in this gigantic pile, a couple of 10s. Those are what we are after.
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I feel sometimes I am super busy in my life dealing with all the 1s and 2s I have chosen. None of it matters. None of it is essential. Will I even remember this stuff in 2 days? 1 day? The powerful point in the book for me is that if we can get really, really good at choosing – at discerning what is essential and ONLY choosing these few things, we will not only have far less on our plate, (free time! yes please.) but what we will have, will ONLY be things that are actually meaningful.
We need to learn how to “distinguish the vital few from the trivial many.”
I don’t think I could of written a better summary for what I am actually trying to do in the studio. When I start a painting I tend not to be particularly discerning. I just am gathering anything and everything that resonates with me. But eventually I need to start eliminating the busyness. It seems I spend most of my time painting out 1s and 2s. I sometimes can’t tell what is essential, but I just keep asking myself the question. And then with that in mind, and a little faith, I eventually find my way to a painting that visually and emotionally gives me a partial answer. My art is a summary of what is important, what is essential to me.
What I am discovering, and maybe this rings true for some of you too, that when you stop making your art, when you leave your studio and walk out into a streaming blue day that you sometimes can carry with you a little bit of this learning. That the ability to discern, to choose from all that you come across, what is meaningful and what is not, is truly a benefit. The idea is that over time as our art improves, slowly but surely, our lives do too.
And that, in terms of why we make art, might be reason enough.
Why do you make your art?
In gratitude, Nicholas