The Artist as Historian

Studio musings -- A friend and I were talking last summer about my paintings, the process of creating them and being creative in general. She doesn’t paint and I told her that I see painting as a method – a learnable skill – for communicating.

I also told her that I don't even think of my work as being creative. I feel that I am documenting or translating something that Mother Nature or God or whom or whatever, has already created. This beautiful thing already exists; I am just putting it on canvas. In a way, this diminishes my involvement in each piece. I don’t have to have the idea of what to create and claim no credit for the inspiration for my paintings. However, I don’t feel that this diminishes my craft or what I am doing – it certainly doesn’t bother me – it just changes how I think about my role or my title. Artist? Yes, without question. But am I creative? Am I generating the ideas? Not in this case. I am recording them.

I have always been compelled to document places that are important to me. Up until my early twenties, though, I wrote about them. I am not sure why I switched mediums, but it was the same overwhelming feeling coursing through my body – a visceral response to natural beauty – and a need to preserve it in something more tangible and permanent than my memory.

Some artists struggle with the business side of being a working artist. Sure, I struggle to sell as much as I want, and balance time between efforts to grow the business and actually paint, and I struggle to input my receipts into Freshbooks in a timely manner, but I definitely don’t struggle with the idea of it being a business. I think that is because, to some degree, I don’t feel ownership of my paintings. And I don’t see the work as precious – the paintings are just records of landscapes that I didn’t create or even have the ideas for. There will always be another landscape that calls me to paint it, and I will paint it – helping, like a historian, to document what our beautiful earth looked (and hopefully, felt) like at a moment in time.