Sitting in my studio the other day sipping a cup of coffee, I looked around at all the canvases propped up against the walls and leaning against the easel, and noticed something interesting -there all landscapes. Now to most people, that wouldn’t be an issue, and really its not. After all, I love representational landscape paintings. I seek them out, and the artists that paint them. I look at the way the light and mood has been captured. The way the paint has been applied to the canvas. And when it works – for me – its magical.
But still, I sat there wondering why I paint them. I also greatly admire abstract, and photorealist work in relation to almost any subject matter. When I was a painting major for a year, I didn’t produce a single landscape. This fact, I found odd.
I took another sip of my coffee and eyed the work suspiciously. Leaning back in my chair, I began examining the deep, or not so deep question of why?
Here’s what I came up with.
#1. I love the landscape on a personal level.
#2. I was raised on representational landscape painting.
#3. Based on #2, it’s expected by everyone in my family.
#4. It’s safer and more commercially viable than say, abstract expressionism – my grandmother would buy a Constable but not a Kandinsky.
I have been aware of this for awhile. I’ll catch myself saying something like “oooh, Id like to paint that parking meter” or “what if I painted the rear view mirror of my car and what I see behind me”. Then I quickly dismiss it based on my simple four step test:
#1. It’s not a landscape painting
#2. There were no parking meter paintings in my family home.
#3. I would be ridiculed at the family BBQ.
#4. It wouldn’t pass the grandmother test and eventually lead to financial ruin and cardboard living quarters.
So, I thought to myself, am I painting landscapes because I truly want to? Or am I painting them because I would like to be able to support myself financially as an artist, and, landscapes are a viable subject matter for that purpose? Would I be ok becoming known for a particular flavour of painting.
Style + Subject matter = Grant Waddell?
After some thought, I realized that there are many subject types I would like to paint or create digitally. Art college, I can attest, opened my eyes to a greatly expanded world of artistic possibility. Art I was trained to dislike at home – “any monkey can do that”, was understood through education. Like a scotch that is too peaty for your liking – it’s not bad scotch, actually it’s damn good, just not what you prefer. There’s a big difference. Not to mention I like that educational process.
My honest belief – if I really open it up – is that I paint landscapes because of my four step test. An ingrained way of thinking that is safe and comfortable and maybe thats ok. While writing this, it dawned on me that this post is an extension of my last blog post about art and how to approach it without making it precious. I now realize this belief, extends beyond the fear of making a technical mistake, but also the fear of choosing subject matter that may not be accepted – subject matter thats very safe and reasonably free of judgement. Thats one of the reasons I’ve learned why some art buyers don’t buy a piece they may really like – fear that someone may ridicule their choice. Do we create safe, so others can buy safe?
In time, I may be able to get rid of reasons #2 through #4, and relish the fact that I simply choose #1- I love the landscape. But it’s going to require some exploration – and a lot of painting. It’s an interesting exercise – examining something as deep as our inspiration for creativity, and really beginning to understand what our motivations are in respect to our fears – what may or may not be real. What is fact and fiction, and what is true expression. Maybe I’ll never know, and maybe thats what will keep me going.