Friday, July 10, 2009

Why do I paint?

My art supplies have been delivered: hooray! And now that I have figured out what I want to do with them, it’s time to dig in.

Part of the “soul-searching” I’ve been referring to in recent blog entries has been my wondering if I should continue to paint paintings like I have been.

Not that I believe painting is dead, by any means. But I was wondering if it’s too “been there, done that” for me personally. Are paintings really saying what I want to say?

I have been interested in and inspired by the installation that a friend is currently working on. What she’s done with this installation is take what she has done in the past and present it on a grander scale.

With that in mind, when I had some time to myself during a class last week while my students were at the “just starting out/nothing to comment on” stage with a project, my mind started to wander. I imagined that I had an unlimited space to present an installation in, and pretty soon I got an idea for one. I got so excited, I even made a mock-up drawing and cut out a miniature prototype. I thought, this is IT! I’ll start making installations, and my resume will soon be bulging with lists of my many shows at prestigious venues.

A day later, I looked at what I had designed and started to laugh. It looked ridiculous! Totally “un-me.” It was like I had borrowed someone else’s dress and tried to fit in with a style that had nothing to do with me.

OK, I admit it: it’s old-fashioned to pull and staple canvas over four strips of wood and paint on it. So what? Maybe I’m not changing art history. But I really don’t care. Painting is what I really want to do, it’s what I really enjoy.

Installations and conceptual pieces and animation and a million other types of visual communication are much more trendy than what I’m doing. But who am I kidding? They don't interest me. Well, as a viewer, yes. But as a maker, no.

As my husband pointed out: my younger brother has autism, and if I created an installation on what it’s like to have a sibling with autism, I would probably have more exhibition offers than I could fit on my calendar. Autism is ever-present in the news and in the public mind these days, as determined parents search for ways to help their children, and health officials, researchers, drug companies, etc., weigh in on the subject of causes and cures.

Likely there are many galleries and exhibition spaces that would be interested in showing art related to such a controversial topic for the purposes of raising consciousness. Many more than would be interested in showing abstract paintings, for sure. And members of the general public would likely be interested in viewing artwork on a socially pertinent topic like this one, probably many more than would be interested in looking at a bunch of shapes and colors.

To continue my husband’s point: If my only goal was to get my work noticed, I could turn to my personal experiences with autism and find many options for art-making and exhibitions. But frankly, that ISN’T what I’m about as an artist, and it wouldn’t be authentic or realistic for me to pretend that it is.

I like to paint, and that’s it. That's all I need to know. The sooner I stop wondering if that’s OK, and get on with it, the better off I’ll be. Soul-searching over!


Deidre said...

I have these same kinds of soul-searching episodes when I feel like I want to (should?) try some different things. But then it always feels too much like a forced thing and the joy I experience in doing my daily work just isn't there.

It sounds like you know what it is that gives your life purpose and meaning. Who cares what's trendy? Making yourself happy is what's important.

Catherine Carter said...

You are absolutely right, Deidre. There's still a part of me that LONGS to be trendy, though, I have to admit! (Part of getting older, I guess!)

Thank you for writing.