We have lots of different reasons for painting. Some of them apply most of the time, some are “just today” or “this particular painting”. Sometimes there are several reasons; sometimes we have a single driving purpose.
Considering why you are painting, in general or this particular painting, can help you create work with more impact and get more enjoyment and satisfaction out of the process. Realizing you are painting right now to soothe yourself, for example, helps interrupt inner dialogue about whether the painting is any good and refocus your attention on the beauty of the wash flowing off the brush, or the simple joy of contemplating all those luscious colors.
Here are some of the many reasons I’ve collected from students and fellow artists (and my own musings) over the years to spark your own imagination. When I find myself frustrated or struggling, perusing this list always helps me find my creative center again.
- as a daily meditation practice
- because I feel compelled to paint (and I get unsettled, depressed and irritable when I don’t)
- to create a card or gift to make someone smile and feel loved and cared for
- to revisit a happy memory
- to revel in and celebrate the beauty, mystery and intricacy of the natural world
- to discover what really moves me about a scene or subject, the essential elements of why it seems attractive or compelling to me
- as a prayer of praise or thanksgiving, or seeking strength, peace or healing
- to fix a scene/experience in memory (sketching in the field or while traveling)
- to brainstorm ideas for a painting and push myself to get to the essence of what interests or excites me about a scene or subject
- to meet obligations to galleries, clients, and students
- to meet expectations of family members and friends
- to create inventory for upcoming shows and sales
- for the nourishment of silence and solitude
- to experience something more deeply (using drawing or painting to focus my attention and be more present and mindful)
- to record details of a scene that might not show up well in a photo (for later use as reference, usually)
- to earn money by creating work for sale
- to explore and record my emotions
- to record my experience or reaction to a scene/person/subject/memory
- to explore variations on a scene/develop a painting concept
- for the pleasure of playing with paint, water and pigment just to see what happens
- to soothe myself with the repetitive graceful motions of putting brushstrokes on paper
- for the pleasure of gathering with other artists to share ideas and techniques
- to gradually transform a difficult emotion or re-envision a memory or experience from a new perspective
- to explore deeper life questions and mysteries—not so much to answer them as to spend extended time pondering them in a nonverbal, holistic way
- to spend time in the presence of mystery and the ineffable
- to honor the sacred nature of all things by offering them my reverent attention
- to blur the boundaries between “self” and “the world”; to transcend the “self”, experience a sense of oneness
- to quiet the always busy, always thinking “monkey mind”
- for the fun and satisfaction of collaborating with a client to create a work with special meaning for them
- to play a role in creating a more beautiful, peaceful and healing community by offering work for sale and show, esp. in healthcare settings
- for the satisfaction of seeing and hearing about the positive effect my work has on people as they encounter it in homes, hospitals, clinics, etc.
Your turn: Why do you paint?