The Leading Question

In order to establish a reachable goal and to stay on track toward it, it’s important to know why we do what we do. The time came that I had to stop and ask myself: “Why do I paint? What is my purpose in turning out painting after painting? If it is to learn, why is it so important that I learn? What is my purpose as an artist?”

120601 Cherries on Table

At first, my appetite was whetted by the sheer excitement of learning a new skill, of overcoming obstacles and discovering ways to solve the problems watercolor posed. I still find pleasure in the learning, discovering, and resolving compositional questions. But that’s not the reason I continue. The fact that my art is no longer limited to watercolor is a minor consideration. The key question remains: “Why do I paint at all, in any medium?”

After some real soul searching, I’ve realized that my purpose in painting is to call attention to the beauties and pleasures of the world around us by observing, and helping others to notice, more than we habitually do.

In photography, we tend to recognize an image: “Oh yes, I know what/where that is.” A skilled photographic artist can take us beyond that level to “Oh, I never looked at it in that way before.” This is often done through compositional design, exaggerated emphasis, or contrast.

In the same way, a skilled painter can depict a common image in an uncommon way to draw attention to some aspect whose beauties have been sublimated to the familiarity of the overall subject. The non-photographic medium itself is often enough to draw attention to the interest in a given subject. But a skilled painter can also suggest a mood, enhance detail, or otherwise present an unexpected aspect of the image that enriches the viewer’s insight into the subject.

Whether I succeed or fall short with any given painting, this is my purpose and goal as a painter. It’s also why I continue to study and learn: The more I learn, the more adept I hope to become in achieving my goal.

My goal as an instructor is an extension of this—to encourage and help others discover the pleasures I have found in learning to use and manipulate the medium, in using it to enhance their own pleasure in the world around them, and to see the familiar from an unfamiliar perspective.

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