On Painting

Why Do You Paint?

Someone once asked me, "Why do you paint?"
And they honestly wanted to know.
And despite having asked myself the same question for years, I could not put words to an answer.

I'm rarely ever asked this question, and I'm glad.
The curiosity is usually around what I paint or where I show my work. Maybe because I'm more interested these days in painting (as a verb) than being a painter (as a thing), they understandably assume out loud... "ah, like a hobby, something to relax and pass the time." But it's not at all like that.

Poets (and philosophers) gracefully put words to things for which there are no words. I'm thankful for the poets. Whenever I feel like I've traveled a few steps too far from the edge of sanity, the poets remind me that this mysterious yearning to paint is actually much closer to reality than anything I can easily put words to.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.”


"What can be said at all, can be said clearly.
And what we cannot talk about,
we must pass over in silence."


"I have nothing to say, and I'm saying it.
And that is poetry as I need it."


"You create yourself in ever changing shapes
that rise from the stuff of our days
like a forest we never knew.
You are the deep innerness of all things,
the last word that can never be spoken"


Mary Oliver
"I did not think of language as the means to self-description.
I thought of it as the door - a thousand opening doors! - past myself.
I thought of it as the means to notice, to contemplate, to praise,
and thus, to come into power."


I have so much love for the paintings I have yet to paint, although I don't know what they are, nor do I have the slightest idea what they will look like. I'm afraid I'll lack the courage to paint them. Or that I won't know or recognize them when I do.

On a few occasions the painting came in silence from somewhere completely unknown but deeply familiar, enough times to know it wasn't entirely an accident.

Every painting leads me to the paintings I've yet to paint, even (and maybe especially) the weak, pale and contrived ones. These are the human ones. The ones that come out of nervousness and fear when nervousness and fear are all I have.

Maybe this is why I paint: Painting is living.

Stacy CaldwellComment