On Labor Day I took a break from painting to go have lunch with my wife. Labor Day requires at least one cheeseburger. She asked me an obvious, straightforward question that I, honestly, have never been asked: “What do you like about painting?”
I had never really considered it, not in those blunt terms. What a good question! I tried to come up with a good answer. I can tell you what I like about a painting. But why do I like to do the thing? I thought about it for a bit and came up with the following.
Shameless pride: It’s really gratifying to do something that most people can’t or can’t do well. This is shallow, but it’s honest.
Magic: Somehow the careful arrangement of colored mud or pixels becomes something else. This is the appeal of painterly illusion: tricking your brain (and other’s brains) into seeing something that isn’t there. If a painting goes particularly well, though, the colored mud or pixels can also create feelings and trigger thoughts or ideas. This is true of any art form, of course, but I personally find pictures particularly powerful in this way.
Meditation: Painting is slow and quiet and methodical. If things are going well I can find myself in a state of flow and lose myself.
Happy accidents: Yes I’m quoting Bob Ross. Come at me. Paintings are constructed. Even when you’re working spontaneously from life, you still have to plan, compose, and strategize. No plan is complete though, and accidents happen. Sometimes they turn out pretty good.
That doesn’t feel complete, but it feels like a good start.