I listened to an interview on CBC a while ago, of an artist whose name has slipped my mind, but whose answer I will never forget.
The question was, “what would you do if someone took your paint brushes away and told you you couldn’t paint again?”
She answered, “That’s simple. I would find another medium to use and continue to create. You can’t stop a person whose has the need to create than you can ask them to stop breathing. ”
I thought about that answer many times since then as it applied to my life and how it might apply to my children especially, but also to everyone else.
As I ponder back in my life, I realize that I’ve been producing and conceiving many things from crayoned pictures, paint by numbers, rooms in the woods, taking my fathers good wood to make a book shelf (without asking of course) to creating personal spaces from so called junk where ever I lived. I’ve manufactured tables and chairs out of pine and boughs that have survived all these years and still adorn my home, inside and out. Perhaps women are the most creative because each on of us creates a home for our families. Maybe we take it all in stride, but the home has to be created. Each home has the spirit of the woman in it whether we think so or not.
And now, even as I age, the need just keeps on going. I don’t know if creating is the right word, but it’s something that comes from a deep place that has to come out in some form. For me, it’s the need to paint people. I’m not like other artists who go on and on about the “body” and the “beauty” of the body and feel the need to paint it naked and explore and praise the flesh. I have never understood that because I don’t happen to think the body is that beautiful, in fact I think most of the time the body is not. But what I do wonder at, is the face. Not because of its elegance or comeliness, although I do find that in any face, but it’s the soul behind the face that intrigues me. The story. The pain and the life that has given it it’s character. It’s the look that says “there is no one like me.”
I remember my teacher, Joe Collins, saying to me, “the portrait you will make is a frozen second in time of that person. Make sure it looks real.” It is difficult to capture that individual, because we are always in motion and sometimes that “second” doesn’t feel real to the sitter because they are not used to seeing themselves as other person sees them. As my teacher expressed, “they don’t like seeing themselves as they are.” To quote the artist Lucian Freud: I paint what I see, not what they want me to see.
Perhaps, when you come right down to it, it doesn’t even matter if the painting is “good” or not. Maybe the most important part is the “process” for the artist or creator through whatever medium they create and what ever subject that appeals to them. Isn’t life always about the journey? A person, in reality, is supposed to paint only for themselves. Maybe that’s why so many people are painting today. I know I never took up painting with the thought of sales, although it is exciting to realize that someone might like my work.
I just hope I’ve instilled the thirst of creativity in my children some how. I would hate for them to go through life, not feeling the joy, the exquisite joy, that it brings.