I have been listening to John Berger - "Ways of Seeing." My thoughts have gone off on a tangent but not completely unrelated to his point. His main point about oil painting seems to be that its history is mired in egoism and status and self-promotion. So it has led me again, as I am led almost every day, to the question of why I paint, and to continue a rigorous examination of the motivation behind my painting. The last thing I want my painting to be about it me.
One way to approach the question of motivation is "What do I want painting (or my paintings) to do for me?" I have heard this asked by other artists. If I were to be completely honest, there is forever this idea of ego that gets in the way of painting. This is nothing new. But the ego does not always appear bold or proud. Sometimes it shows up in the most shy, sly ways. Anything about painting that has to do with me or my agenda to achieve some end or to appear successful or identify myself as an artist or painter, or even "finding my voice" or "efforting" to say whatever convoluted thing I think I might have to say... all of that has got to go.
When you take away all of the agendas, in the end painting is a way of living a life, the most honest and meaningful way for me I can think of. I will always think of Albert York, painting quietly in his basement because, simply, the world is just too beautiful. If no one had discovered his work, his life would have been just as beautiful for the time and attention he gave to painting.
I heard another artist say this once and it has become a mantra of mine: It does not matter one bit who or what is paying attention to me (or my work); it only matters to what I am paying attention. If you think this is obvious or easy, don't be fooled. I believe this is the core struggle of every artist, if he is honest.
It is in this way of losing our sense of ego (of an identifiable self, or grandiosity, or virtuoso) and finding instead humility and a sense of belonging that I believe the world unfolds before us and we become more keenly aware of things as they really are. This is something I hope painting will do for me. And this is also Freedom. I hope I live to be at least 100... true, free, honest painting is a life-long pursuit.
Another way to approach the question of why I paint would be, "What is my relationship to my paintings?" The answer I have to that is most of the time quite clear: I love them. That is not to say that I judge them as "good" paintings and therefore I love them. I simply, truly and deeply love them as they are, even the weak failed ones. And to love them (and to love the painting of them, the process) is to pay a most honorable and even sacred level of attention to them and to the painting of them. Love is, after all, attention - close, deep, careful, discerning, compassionate attention.
And so, it is interesting to me how it all comes down to love. I suppose I want above all to paint love. (And love is not always pretty, let's be clear.) Love is why I paint, even though I know I will never quite figure out how to do that. But god forbid I should figure it out, for then the journey would be over. However, I do know it is possible as there is evidence of it in paintings everywhere.