“What You Need for Painting”

New piece in progress 20" x 20"
New piece in progress
20″ x 20″

When I taught writing, I told my fledgling writers to “Read, read, read.”  Now that I’m a fledgling artist, I tell myself to “Look, look, look.

I bring books home from the Library every week to add to my own small collection of art books.  As you probably know, art books are big and usually heavy, so I congratulate myself on also “working out” as I carry the books to my car and then from my car to the apartment.

This week, I found a relatively new book, 100 Painters of Tomorrow on the shelf.  In our fast moving century, the book is already two years old, but all of the artists are new to me. It’s quite a collection – something for everybody.  Paintings to love, paintings to question, figurative, abstract, careful, slapdash (although I know that’s an illusion)…all interesting and informative.

I look at the book every day and study what these painters of tomorrow (now today) are up to.  It’s a terrific window on the contemporary art world.  But I also find myself interested in what each artist has to say about his or her work.  The statements nearly all begin with a variation of “My work is about…,” “I am interested in…,” “These paintings represent…”

I started thinking about what I’d say if and when asked to speak of my work.  Granted, I have not yet painted enough to claim anything like a collection.  And I’m still exploring, or rather circling.  I know I keep coming closer and closer to “my work” with each piece, and my recent awareness that it’s all about color for me has put me very near the heart of the work I want to do.  “My work is about…”

Writer Raymond Carver included a poem in his collection Ultramarine titled “What You Need for Painting.”  This is a “found” poem taken from a letter written by Renoir and is largely a (lovely and poetic) list of pigments and painting tools, but it ends with this quote from Renoir, perhaps the main thing needed for painting:

“Indifference to everything except your canvas.
The ability to work like a locomotive.
An iron will.”

Whatever the work is about, it is first of all about commitment, focus, and will.

But mostly commitment.