"We alone, of the thousands who walk this earth, we alone in this hour are doing a work which has no purpose save that we wish to do it." -from Anthem, by Ayn Rand
Giving time to painting is an act of faith. To this world it will hardly appear noble, purposeful, praiseworthy; and yet, painting reincarnates in every generation. James Whistler put it like this, "We have then but to wait--until with the mark of the Gods upon him--there come among us again the Chosen--who shall continue what has gone before."
Many practicing artists claim they are merely responding to a call. Whether they take it to be mystical or metaphysical, it's a compelling they follow to allay their conscience. It can reach the level of obsession. Painting has been referred to as a mistress, a holy grail, a brotherhood, a magnificent struggle, a muse--so much significance given to a practice that is, at its core, just a childlike attempt to create imaginary worlds on a two-dimensional surface.
I like to think of painting as a flirtatious ghost we can't truly hold on to. It always beckons from a distance. There are times we think to ourselves, "This is so meaningless," yet living without it produces a chasm of the soul, and we realize it is inexorably linked to our well being.
Some of us have loved ones that would beckon us to give it up. Movies exploit this when they show a child engaged in drawing, whose rigid father says something like, "Stop that silliness and dreaming, and become more useful to this world." All the artists in the audience collectively gasp at the horror of such an assertion. We feel as if Adam and Eve were just banished from the garden, or Jupiter had just stolen the innocence of a young lady. A child with a drawing tool is truly an artist's archetype.
Sometimes the desire to paint can feel like a careless master leading us into repetitive disappointment, but our faith can turn it into a caring father. To religious people like myself, this is analogous to how we wrestle with theological questions and yet feel at home in them. Artists wrestle with skill and vision, but find their fulfillment actually comes from the shared struggle.
A recent workshop student told me that upon turning 80, she heard the voice of God telling her to spend the rest of her life learning to paint. Her determination was impressive and was made manifest by her tireless and inquisitive manner. I'll never forget her example. No one is too old to start the struggle, and nothing less than everything was the right response to such a call.
It's an act of trust each time we approach the easel, and whether the result is pleasing or not, we trust again the next time. For painters, faith might be our greatest resource.