Degas wrote that “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” Saying that great art is a way of seeing-through to a transcendental realm that we all share with everything else in existence would be the mystical way of putting it – but it’s really a very simple experience in the moment. Getting down and dirty and working on a painting, somewhere out in the field under the great sky, or even in the studio – there is a full focus of attention, a heightening of consciousness in which everything is vivid, yet wholly connected, and there is this intensified awareness that dissolves the boundaries of things, and of me as a part of those things. The poet Gary Snyder expressed it so well when he wrote, “to know the spirit of a place is to realize that you are a part of a part and that the whole is made of parts, each of which is a whole. You start with the part you are whole in."
For me painting is a way of loving the world. An attempt to participate in its beauty– to disappear, really– into the incredible beauty of creation, of every shadow and light. It makes me fall in love with life over and over again.
It’s also continually a very humbling revelation of just how much more vastly beautiful everything is than I will ever be able to express. It’s a means of entering, for a time, moments of being which are primordial to thought.
“What would it look like if you didn’t ‘know’ what is was?” Is one way of asking a beginning painter to look at shapes in a landscape. But it’s really revelatory of what’s happening when I look at the motif before me and try to translate its perfection with the crudeness of my implements and my limited understanding! On the one hand there is this desire, which is motivated by nothing but passion, admiration and joy over the thing-in-itself. And then on the other hand there is technique– the question of the matter and the means. You need both to translate vision.
The reason I keep painting is because I must feel a certain participation in that loveliness, like being invited-in for a few moments, by the great creator to witness the process, to catch glimpses, to experience what appears to be “out there”. It’s a way of living in those beautiful things for a little while. Of stopping time. Of full presence. When that door cracks open a little, you just want to keep going, keep searching, keep trying to go through it and see what’s there.
It’s a losing of self-preoccupation, so it’s very freeing, for that time, even though the painting process itself is usually a battle!
And in the humblest way, making a painting is a means of paying homage, of making this tiny, ridiculously menial offering in appreciation of such magnificence, such radiance all around. It’s a means of receiving the Gift.
I saw this quote someplace recently - seems to sum it all up: “A painting is like a good joke: If you have to explain it, it’s not that good.”