Friday, January 20, 2012

Figuring out my motivations.

Poor quality close up of a work in progress. 

Why am I here? Why do I paint? Why do I blog about it? Why would I think you would care? Why do I have my day job? Why wouldn't I pick one over the other? 

I've been pulling those questions apart lately. I've been reacting against or agreeing with all sorts of things that touch on those questions and I think I'm getting a glimmer of some of the answers. 

I know a lot of things I don't want to be here for - money, popularity, vanity, my name going down in history, bad art, compromised integrity. Some of those things are really easy to avoid.... others battle with my ego all the time. More time than I care to admit. 

Another thing that I've become increasingly aware of in myself and in my surroundings is how easy it can be to manipulate things (and just to be clear here, to a painter, not all manipulations are bad. Paintings themselves can be manipulations). 

So where does this fit into the why questions? Simple. I could easily write something here that sounds really noble or accomplished or whatever and you might believe me. So I've been thinking about how to articulate my whys without manipulating it into something that secretly satisfies the things that I want to avoid. Surprisingly easy, and probably surprisingly hard. I'll try. 

I've read through some of my old posts from after I melted down here and a common thing emerges. You can see it in the "About Me" column. (As an aside, I hate those things. Artist Bios, Statements and the like as well, see my above commentary on manipulations.) Turns out I already knew why, but didn't have it within reach enough to explain it. I'm here to communicate things that matter. That's pretty much it. 

Define here: This world. This family. This blog. This career. That career. Stuff like that. 

Define communicate: This is where it gets interesting. Could be painting. Could be subject. Could be words. Could be actions. Could be a whole bunch of things. 

Define matters: Again, interesting. Matters to me. From my perspective, what matters to the world or should matter to the world. You have perhaps been reading this because what matters to me, matters to you. Should I exhaustively explain each painting and process to justify why it matters? No. Painting does better when some questions come up, when something in your heart is stirred and you can't quite pin point why. That's where the conversation between artist and viewer begins. Look at a piece of art, any art. Look at it again and ask "why does this matter?" Boom. Instant conversation. 

So, do paintings of mermaids matter? They did at some point. They still do on occasion. The "why they matter" has changed though. I look back over the years on this blog and I am humbled by what a shameless self promoter I've been at times. Mermaid paintings etc mattered to me back then because they made me quick easy money. Plus cartoon-ey things are fun to paint. They matter to me occasionally now because I give them to my daughters or they are for friends. Daughters and friends matter. At times quick, easy money and fun has mattered over other things. Hence that struggle for "why's" I don't like in myself. 

Okay. So could we say that "I'm here to communicate what matters" is your purpose statement? Barf. No (I got a book recently that had a chapter that talked about purpose statements for your family and it really irritated me). It is my "big picture" purpose perhaps (as much as I can understand those things, which is not very much), but purpose statements are not for people, they are for boardrooms. 

This sort of thing breaks down when we look at the mundane necessities.  Does communicating what matters work in the department of making dinner? Rarely (unless it is home made pot stickers for Birthdays or New Years - making those communicates something that really matters - having enough time set aside for my kids to make them because they take forever. Mac'n cheese, not so much) How about driving kids to school? Nope. Facebook... sadly, not much. 

Of course we could distill those things into some glorious crusade of "why it matters" but go back and read my thing above on manipulations. I do lots of stuff because society says I have to. Could make it look noble, but my main motivation for many things "because it needs to get done".

Purpose statements often include lots of actions and goal oriented words but not a lot of "whys". I'm interested in the why questions.

So lets answer them. 

Why am I here? To communicate things that matter. 

Why do I paint? To communicate things that matter. 

Why do I blog about it? To communicate things that matter. 

Why would I think you would care? I'm communicating things that I think matter. You either agree or disagree with them.  

Why do I have my day job? To communicate things that matter. 

Why wouldn't I pick one over the other? I'm communicating things that matter in two different ways to two different groups, all of which matter to me. 

So what about things you paint that seem kind of typical or repetitive or I can't figure out why that subject would matter? Well, if it is a work from a few years ago, it mattered sometimes because it looked pleasing. (there are other things that matter in those ones too, just not always so clear) If it's more recent, there is probably a subtext there that matters. If you are going along with what I'm painting or communicating about in other formats, chances are you would agree that these things matter even if you can't articulate why it matters. If you are ever curious, ask me. I might even tell you. 

Okay, so you were going on about manipulations. What does that have to do with what matters? It matters so much to me that I'm not trying to manipulate (in a bad way) with blogging or painting. So much. Painful. Perhaps trying to make right the wrong of shameless self promotion? I don't know. I've just been so hyper aware of that sort of thing lately, I need to put it out there in writing. Which is paralyzing because I can get stuck analyzing my motivations to the point of doing nothing. Not blogging. Not painting. 

Anyways. This mattered enough for me to interrupt the painting shown above to sit at the desk top to blog. (part of the reason why blogging has fallen off the radar for me. Maybe I need a keyboard for the iPad. Dunno) 

By the way (and I've hesitated to share this, again with the chance of being mistaken for shameless self promotion, I've had this lined up forever it seems) One thing that matters to me is that I'm starting new work for a solo show next year at the Airdrie Public Library (January 7th - March 4th 2013). Why does this matter? I've never buckled down enough to pursue a solo show. I want to do a good job. I want to surprise myself.  I want to spend a good chunk of my time this year preparing for this exhibit. I want to communicate what matters. 

Since I want it to have a good amount of new work, I've decided that I'm not going to post full shots of my completed pieces just so you can have a few surprises! I do want to communicate other aspects of this journey this year. 

Part of the reason I've been enjoying this part of communicating is I'm just communicating it because I want to explain things. Not to sell things (that fight with manipulations!). I don't want to sell this work before this show and I have no concrete idea of what I'm doing with it after the show. Depends on the work. Depends on where I am at personally. 

I don't have to think of that until after it is over. Hopefully there will be enough space between the act of creating it to when I have to deal with where those paintings will go afterwards that they won't influence each other too much. 


Daniel Carver (aka Dano) said...

You are asking some very interesting questions. I'm in a similar place where I am re-examining my motivations.

What do you do in your day job?

Michelle said...

Dano! Good to hear from you.

I'm a children's pastor by day. I would haver never in a thousand years pin pointed that as a career for myself but I love it.