For some reason, swirling rainbows and smiles sparkling in the sunshine don’t seem to be as powerful images of painting or painters versus some super sad guy chopping off his ear and gifting it to a hooker.
It’s true, it hurts to paint, for a lot of reasons—there’s a lot of discipline and hard work involved. You work hard and long enough, you can get burnt out, and oftentimes, however hard you work, people don’t seem to appreciate what you create.
Yet in spite of all this (in the words of the immortal Mr Cougar Mellencamp), it hurts so good you can’t help but keep on painting. And when people think to ask you, it’s hard to explain why. Not that you’re obliged to, of course, but it helps to be able to articulate these things for the types who might ask why anyone would choose to be an artist in the first place.
So here are a few articulated reasons why painting is possibly one of the happiest things for mortals to do. (Why everyone doesn’t, in spite of these reasons, is another matter entirely, but I guess one could look at it as a, theme park, of sorts: You can’t get in unless you have a ticket, but once you do, you run wild, have fun and you don’t ever want to leave.)
You’re master of all you survey.
When I was a kid with a notebook or some pad paper and a pencil or a pen, I used to think of the paper as some sort of alternate dimension or reality I could ‘send my consciousness’ into. (I read a lot of weird books as a kid, so sorry.) Once there, I could be anything, do anything, meet anybody, make anybody look the way I wanted them to and do whatever I wanted.
Okay, that sounds megalomaniacal, but I think that’s one of the reasons why I ended up painting monsters—I didn’t often see monsters in real life (not the kind with fish tails or single horns on their heads, anyway), so I drew them for myself. And as I grew older I guess part of me wanted other people to meet these monsters, too, or to see them the way I did.
In any case, it’s the fun of inventing things and imagining what things could be like. Showing other people what you see in your head sometimes isn’t as fun but when it is, the nice thing about that is that sometimes, what you started out with becomes even better than you first imagined. (Sometimes—it depends on who you’re sharing it with //wink)
It’s addicting on an elemental level.
You know how you can get addicted to certain flavours, certain sounds, certain textures—you can’t stop eating certain kinds of food. You can’t stop listening to a particular song. And you just love running your fingers through your doggo’s fur or the feel of leather and chains. (Okay, that last one was… …but you get the idea, yes?)
Painting, for me, is like that—you get addicted to certain colours, certain textures, shapes and lines, the very materiality of the paint, the mediums. The way the brushes or the knives rub against the support, the thickness, the brightness of the paint, and how full-bodied, or delicate, sometimes, the colours are. It’s like if your eyes had a mouth? You just can’t stop eating.
You gorge. (You can get sick, sometimes, too.) Some patterns, some rhythms are addicting, as well. I can’t do non-rep x it’s not my thing? But I understand how some artists just want (people) to focus on just the colour. Just the texture. Just the movement. Just the paint, or the stone or the clay instead of a ‘thing’ (or the representation of the thing //thinks of Magritte).
Some people might wonder how other people can keep doing the same things over and over—well, some people like doing some things over and over (like crocheting or knitting, I guess). I know someone who’s addicted to working out in the gym (she sure looks it)—like even when she’s sick she’s just got to get over there and dancercise or something. Says it makes her high.
For me, painting is like that. You get high taking in all those reds, or yellows, or swirly shapes just dancing and flowing around. (Are you sure it’s not the smell of the paint, Jill? XD) And watching the colours swim into each other (which is why I love watercolour, and acrylic, too, sometimes if I use it that way).
Put some music on while you’re working and you can get so high it can be magical (and exhausting) (at least until someone knocks on your door and bursts into your room or the neighbour makes a speakerphone call). I know there are lots of other ways people get high or things they can get off on but painting is probably one of the more legit methods ^o^;
The process itself is fun.
I can’t cook or bake to save my life. I remember trying a few times when I was a kid; didn’t work out so well—or well I remember I could make pancakes? You know, the kind that came in a box? But I had trouble lighting the bloody stove ^o^; In any case, the people whose fairy godmothers blessed them with the gift of baking and such, enjoy everything that goes into it.
They like getting all the ingredients together, and the stuff—the flour, the chocolate chips, the cookie cutters and so on. They like the measuring, mixing, chopping (although I don’t know anybody who enjoys the peeling) (or the washing up)—the frying x flipping and watching people devour the fruits of their labour and going ‘Mmmmm’ while they’re at it.
For me, again, painting is like that. It’s true I’m not crazy about sawing (hammering I’m okay with #violentjill) or hefting heavy pieces of wood or stretching canvas or cleaning up my palettes, my brushes and so on. (Any more than how a chef probably doesn’t enjoy cleaning a fish or plucking a chicken (or killing it, for that matter).
But I do love the entire process of painting—from conceptualisation and research to the actual getting down and dirty (face it, it does get messy sometimes) with the paint and the knives and brushes and stuff. Sometimes I find the ‘getting all the ingredients together’ part irksome because I can’t wait to get started (also because the ‘ingredients’ can be expensive LOL).
Sometimes having to prepare the paint and other stuff bugs me this way, too (especially when I’m in a hurry), although I do, deeply enjoy mixing colours—my niece once said it was like cooking, which is ironic considering my inability to cook. But I am looking forward to a time when I can just take my own sweet time and savour every step of my creative process.
All that we love.
I’ve spoken about how Tolkien has said ‘we put the thought of all we that we love into all that we make’. So I guess it makes sense for painting to make you happy because thinking about what you love makes you happy—not all the time, I grant you. (In fact, in my experience, more often than not, it makes you unhappy.) But happy, nonetheless.
And now I come to a reason for painting being a HAPPY thing that maybe isn’t so easy to articulate, but which might be put in a manner it popularly is, these days: the feels. And these ‘feels’ can be said to sum up the reasons above. That feeling of having the power to create, to visualise things other people don’t (always) (normally) see. That feeling of getting high.
That feeling of satisfaction you get when you (if you’re as OC as me) line up your knives and your brushes, and you arrange your paint and you have everything ready. The delight you feel when the colour comes alive across a bare surface for the first time. And finally, the feeling of—well, I won’t say ‘pride’, but I will say ‘awe’, or ‘wonder’, when you’ve completed your work.
Plus, there are all the ‘little feels in between’ while you’re working, particularly if you have, shall we say, something in mind while you’re working—like maybe, you’re remembering something and you’re drawing on that for a particular piece. Nostalgia, maybe, or longing, I don’t know. Depends on the person x it’s pretty personal.
And I guess it’s that ‘personal’, very deeply felt or private aspect that makes it difficult for some people to talk about why painting makes them happy (or otherwise). It can get awkward for people to share something they’ve got deep down in places they’d rather not talk about or share with just anybody.
So the explanation becomes, ‘it makes me happy’ and we end up leaving it at that. And that’s just fine. But I will say this: The feeling of stepping back and looking at something you made and knowing it’s finished? And you know it’s good (for one of yours, anyway) and you say to yourself, ‘Wow. Did I make that?’ is one of the best feelings in the world. For me, anyway.
Now, this ‘best feeling’ can be pretty addicting, too. And I’ll admit, not everything I make makes me go ‘ooh’ (more often than not, they make me go something else). But I guess you could say that’s one reason why I keep painting—so I can try and ‘feel that feeling’ again.
Just get happy!
I guess, again, because of the hard work, et cetera it can become easy to forget that painting is a HAPPY thing. There have been times I’ve had to leave the ‘painting factory’ for a while to teach, and while I’ve gotten pissed at having to interrupt the ‘painting factorying’ it’s happened that I was reminded, while teaching, that painting is fun! A happy thing.
And it’s good to remember this, once in a while, especially if you’re in the middle of a major ‘painting factory’ project preparing for a show or whatever—to remember to find or rediscover the joy of what we do. As painters, as artists, as creators.
If you’re not the artsy type and it’s never occurred to you to try and get happy with a paintbrush, why not give it go? Don’t worry about making it look good or realistic or whatever—just enjoy the colours and spreading them around and let go. You’d be surprised at how therapeutic (or cathartic) it can be.
Or, if you’re ‘one of us’ and painting’s ‘gotten to the point where it’s become something you do for a living’—something you ‘have’ to do instead of ‘want’ to do—I know how it feels x I feel you. So whether you’d like to try painting out or you’d like to try to reclaim your ‘happy’ in painting, I’m here for you.