I took some time out last week, a chance to catch up on some reading, spend time with family, and even fit in some painting. Whilst wrestling with new paints I was reminded how painting is not about capturing the thing: it doesn’t have to be about exact parameters, perspective, dimensions, it doesn’t have to be direct representation. Painting can be about the spirit of the thing, about defining a space through simple lines, within which we understand the essence.
In some ways painting is a perfect example of the simplicity that we reach once we have passed through complexity: I remember when I first picked up watercolours desperately applying solid blocks of colour to represent the thing in front of me, before learning, after many years, that watercolour can represent merely the shadow, the sense of the thing.
I find myself stuck in a dichotomy: I know that everything can be measured, and yet I know it’s equally true that some things are unquantifiable. My ability to represent every angle and every dimension of an object does not equate to my ability to paint it well. And yet with clumsy lines and haphazardly applied blocks of colour the bear little relation to reality, I can nevertheless represent something well.
Talking to my teenage niece about painting last week she explained that she was no good at painting because she couldn’t master the things that they were trying to teach her about how to paint. The sadness for me was in trying to teach painting they had failed to explain what art is about: not rules, not simple representation, not adherence to a structure, but rather a willingness to try and seek out the sense and spirit of the thing.