I AM a landscape painter. I look at what is given to me to behold. I try to know and understand those animate and inanimate entities with whom I share space on earth and time alive. I hope to return to nature and life as much as I take from friends, creatures, and the earth, air, fire and water which sustain me.
Making paintings, thinking about paintings other people have made, looking at paintings and thinking about paintings I might make are private activities. They occur in the areas of my life and mind which belong entirely to me: no one may enter; the windows are blind and the doors are bolted.
But, while paintings issue from private energies and reveries, they perforce -- just like all of us, painters and other people in the world -- live also in the public world. I believe the tension between private and public aspects of paintings is the key to understanding painting as a human activity and it is key, too, to an individual painter establishing a designed and articulated life that will serve the needs of painting.
Painting, like other human activities which give form to feeling, has a history, a cluster of traditions. I believe the history is splendid and the traditions still alive. Painting has been a vehicle for understanding life, for celebrating events and heroes and loved ones, for discovering and fixing myth, for making visible that which would otherwise have been invisible and inaccessible to our kind.
Throughout the greatest portion of history, art was closely related with magic and religion. Both magic and religion make us uncomfortable, irritable and uncertain now. Some of us may cling individually to traditional church forms; some of us may experiment with drugs and exotic sects in an effort to revive religion in our own singular souls. But as a society, we are not deeply involved in religion and we do not make and share myths. Rather, we put our faith -- such as it is -- in sociological charts, in television explanations of events, in material goods, in status or in elected craziness, which excuses us from responsibility for our own feelings and our own behavior.
In a time when religious quest is almost totally personal -- if it exists -- a painter works with poor tools, farms arid land, continually walks the troubled path to the goat's house to seek wool.
I believe that we have forgotten our myths, forgotten the names and faces of the gods who once made life livable for our kind, lost the secret signs and the sacred symbols that marked history and individual lives within history.
AND NOW, some practical advice. Painting costs a lot of money. It is especially costly if you use good materials--if you serve your craft well. Paints, brushes, canvas, space to work and all the other necessities of the trade cost a great deal. I knew this when I was a student and knew that I'd need to earn a living for myself and for painting. I knew, too, that I'd need to manage my time well, pray for energy, hope for friends who would understand, and not to expect to do what I wanted to do and meet the requirements of other people at the same time. The advice, therefore, is this: know that you'll have to work at something other than paintings and try not to be a sorehead about it. We are, after all, citizens.
If practical or wise or simply bright, I'd not paint at all. But painting has nothing to do with practicality or good sense. If you are a painter, you will -- at whatever cost -- make paintings, despite anguish related to audience, market or profit.
My next bit of advice is less practical, but perhaps more important. Learn to address your paintings as friends -- living or dead -- whom you can love easily. Don't ask the paintings to communicate, to say for you what you can't say for yourself; rather, let them be presences which permit, even encourage, communion. I always hope that people will see my paintings, like them, and think of nature. I hope my paintings will cause someone to notice or recall the earth or sky, be charmed by moss or fern, be delighted by seasons and creatures. But I know that the paintings are addressed privately and actually only to certain people whose responses I value.
Measure your efforts by the great tradition of painting. If you are a painter, you will look at paintings of other artists and admire the brush froth of Hals, the planes of Cezanne, the silhouettes of Inness, the energy of Turner, the power of Homer, the intelligence of Piero Della Francesca, the gentleness of Giotto, the light of Chardin, the humanity of Rembrandt, the spaces of Corot, the construction of Manet, the truthfulness, agony, humor, passion, clarity, joy and mystery of others who have practiced at painting.
You will never know enough to be certain that you are making good paintings. But, continue to learn in good faith and high energy anyway. You will never be able to claim painting, but rejoice that it has claimed you. Your agony and frustration and loneliness will be as real as your delight and joy and awe. So pull up your socks. The bad days don't matter. Painting, that difficult art, requires your whole attention, your whole life.