“WHY do you draw or paint? What do you want your work to SAY? “
These were questions posed by one of my college art professors and, at age twenty, I had no clue how to answer them. It would take a Buddhist proverb “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” along with several more years before my teacher would arrive in the form of a five-year old girl. That girl is my darling granddaughter – and she would want me to tell you up front that she is now almost seven. She has helped me see that the above questions apply equally to all interests and vocations as we seek to understand why we are attracted to, or inspired by certain people, places and things. Another universal quest is to identify the intention, meaning and purpose our work holds for us and those we share it with. (Yes, a five year old can teach us all that and so much more!)
Picasso knew all about the wisdom of children when he said, “We are all born artists. But the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. If we observe a child, we see that she draws and paints for the sheer joy of it. That is her only why. The joy of expression removes any fear of failure as her focus is locked into the adventure of discovery in the present moment. There is simply no room for apprehension or hesitation in a little heart that creates from that magical space of joy, wonder, and pure potential.
A century ago, Robert Henri famously taught his art students to “push on to paint the spirit of the thing… because what we need is more a sense of wonder, and less of the business of making a picture.” To be honest, at first I couldn’t grasp the full meaning of that statement. (See how my patient my little teacher has been with me?) But my granddaughter’s approach to art helped me see that a bigger truth lies beneath the exuberance and joy in which work is created. When children share their art with us, we are not inclined to critique it for preciseness of drawing, color harmony, values or composition before we hang it on the refrigerator. Judgment is thrown out the window as the purity of intention surpasses those technical details. Children intuitively capture that sense of wonder Henri was referring to, because the underlying spirit of their subjects is all they see. And when we view their work, all we see is the energy and delight they bring to it. When any gift of creativity is received with the same joy it was created in, it becomes an exchange that uplifts and encourages both parties. Ultimately, we discover that if we do what we love, and simultaneously share our strengths and talents with others, we serve humanity on a higher level. Deepak Chopra connects our life’s purpose with service when he explains “…when we blend this unique talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit…and lose track of time and create abundance in our own life as well as the lives of others.”
In 2007, I began writing about my art journey in a blog. My original intention was merely to share what I was doing with family and friends, but it has taught me that the process of painting trumps the outcome. And the journey has evolved along with a variety of interests and opportunities. I had a solo exhibit for the month of April, and this month I am donning the “hat of illustrator” for a new book called Cathedral Building, The Power of Purpose by Greg Coker. Next month I look forward to participating in Freedom Fest, a Humane Society fundraiser, where invited artists donate work garnered from painting sessions at Lexington horse farms. Discovery and continued learning is my lifelong pursuit, and who said it couldn’t be fun along the way?
So why do I paint? It has been in my heart and soul for as long as I remember. Like my granddaughter, I sketched as a way of documenting life as it unfolded. What I try to say with my art is that beauty exists in the most ordinary of moments, and I am humbled by the challenge of capturing that truth in paint.
As you read this, I hope you too will see the wonder in everything around you and keep a vigilant eye out for your next teacher (who may appear in disguise…just sayin’)
Faye Christian Phillips
Faye Christian Phillips
And I leave you with these enchanting words by Neil Gaima…
“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you are wonderful! And don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”