It seems that whenever I let my heart take the lead, instead of my head, I do my best work. I have said for years that what I love to paint the most is foliage, and my artist statement always mentions organic shapes & patterns, and mood created with dramatic lighting and vivid colour, but not all of my paintings hit the nail on the head the way this one does.
Painting technique can be learned, but finding one’s own unique artistic voice/style has no predictable timeline, no guarantee. Some artists are lucky to discover it right away, but I personally think that that is the case when they already have strong opinions, and a clear idea of who they are – OR, they have someone nurturing and mentoring their progress.
Some artists, especially those working on commission, may never discover their own voice, because they are essentially allowing themselves to be a channel for their client’s voice. I am not saying that there is a right & a wrong, or even a finality about this decision. Making a living as an artist takes as much creativity as the artwork itself.
It is possible however to do good paintings, that do nothing to move you down your own artistic path. I suppose I am talking here not of art as a commodity, but as a spiritual practice or art therapy. A creative process like painting can be a vehicle for personal growth, if the artist is mindful. Like writing “morning pages” (google Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way if you don’t know what I’m talking about), the painter can sometimes gain clarity & insight by being in the moment.
Painting pushes everyday worries out of my head because it is like slipping into a stream of constant decision making. When I stop, it is a struggle to keep my head above water, which is why I try to have a couple paintings on the go at any one time.
Canvases as mental life-rafts, I might be pushing the metaphor a little. Then again, I have heard authors say that writing a certain book saved their life, either due to the toxicity they were able to release, or to the positive energy it brought into their lives.
The arts are how we connect to the rest of humanity, even our most desperate times. And it isn’t just a benefit for those of us creating. The general public may not be able to relate to my story of being moved to tears as I stood in front of a gigantic Sorolla painting in the D’Orsay Museum in Paris, but we have all laughed and cried because of a movie, we have all felt the grip on our hearts as music dragged us up and down through an emotional roller coaster.
In fact, the chances of a viewer being deeply moved by a painting is partly dependent on personal taste, partly due to the sum of their life experience – the more experiences the more points of reference they have to connect with the work – and above all it has to do with how truly open they are to being in the moment, to contemplate, to feel, to trust in their honest reaction to the work. Appreciation for the arts is a gift we give ourselves, and others. It is a portal to receiving and sharing joy, peace, truth and a sense of belonging.