Friday, July 15, 2016

Some Thoughts on Painting

Enrique Martinez Celaya, The Education, 2015
I think that, for whatever unclear reasons, artists walk through this world burdened with a feeling of unrest and dissatisfaction with the conditions of human life as it's lived day to day. 

Enrique Martinez Celaya, The Burning
Then one day they encounter a great work of art (it could be a painting, a novel, a poem, a piano concerto…) and suddenly they fall in love with the idea that it is possible to improve those conditions - to elevate humanity above its habitually low level of consciousness by bringing into existence tangible manifestations of a full life, in fact the best of human thought and feeling.

Enrique Martinez Celaya, The Confession
Something in this individual silently devotes itself to this "mission" of accessing a deeper, more meaningful reality in themselves and bringing into existence objects and experiences (works of art) that make those states both evident and accessible to others. 

Then begins a difficult but inevitable though often uplifting lifetime of trying and mostly failing to achieve something: art, the only thing worth doing.

This is often described as a "calling." - All this no matter how unlikely the odds that they will ever create anything on an equal footing with the great works of the great artists in history. This project of living a more authentic life, of really seeing and thinking and feeling and wanting to share that through the practice of art, is what inspires great artists to create. 

All authentic art - that is, art that's honest, in which the artist has created from within without relying over much on the successes of his or her predecessors - has the beneficial effect of allowing people open to experiencing the art to awaken to their own untapped potential as thoughtful, feeling individuals. 

Most people live lives of "quiet desperation" always looking over their shoulder at those around them and doing what they think they are supposed to do or what other people (i.e. society) want or coerce them into doing. 

We live in a completely commercialized culture in which nearly everyone behaves as if acquiring money is the goal (whether or not they consciously believe this, and very few actually do, nevertheless it's is how many's days are spent because so few believe they have any other choice). Strong art does what economically driven societies and communities only do as an afterthought, if at all - it creates moments of meaningful human expression and communication, celebrating the "impractical" areas of human experience (dreams, imagination, sensation, ideas) providing nourishment for thought, feeling, and perception. 

I didn't start painting until the age of 41, but I'd been on an artistic path (as a poet, in fact) since the age of 16. I fell in love with painting after discovering the great works of American painters from the 19th and early 20th centuries, which until then I had never truly seen or understood. I knew I loved it as soon as I smelled the linseed oil I use every day and saw the first colors taking form under my brush. 

I follow Gaugin’s advice as best I can:

“Paint freely and madly; you will make progress Above all, don't sweat over a painting; a great sentiment can be rendered immediately   Don't copy nature too closely. Art is an abstraction; as you dream amid nature, extrapolate art from it and concentrate on what you will create as a result."

While ordinary visual seeing is a given, artistic seeing is a matter of spirit - which is to say, the artist’s inner life of imagination, memory, and sensation, compounded with one’s highest ideals concerning art and life. These things inform the kind of work one wants to make, and this in turn literally informs what and how one sees in the world. 

One's artistic practice should always be about the struggle for self knowledge. It mustn’t revolve around technique, conception, or even perception alone.

Painting is a manifestation of being; it's a concretized form of self-development that never has to end as long as one lives. 

Enrique Martinez Celaya (studio wall)

All paintings in the post are by Cuban-American painter Enrique Martinez Celaya.


  1. It is a wonderfully written stream of thought, I can hear the voice of the poet and the empathy of the artist.
    Absolutely made my day, thank you.

  2. yes indeed, thank you for this wonderfully encouraging and inspiring post

  3. What a poetic and inspiring description of what it means to be an artist!! It really touched my heart! Thanks Chris -- you say it better than anyone!

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