Why do I paint?

With consumerism at the forefront of western society and seen as the purpose of life, we live to work, to earn and to consume, this is a significant part of our lives. However, I find myself drawn to expressing an alternative view of life through my art. Why do I paint..? I want to communicate what I see.

Although many people see painting as being based on traditional values and having a limitation to address contemporary issues, I believe that painting offers the challenge of finding new meanings. I see it as a way to create new insight and uniquely capture people’s imagination. Some people might see this view of painting as naive, that nothing is truly original anymore in this postmodern society.

But for me, other forms of communication don’t compare with the excitement of art. They don’t come close to allowing me the opportunity to look in detail at the interesting and unexplained things l see about me in this world of ours. I am interested in the position that a painter has in relation to the world. I discover things through painting. When I paint, I am looking at the history of art, the present and the future by painting myself and the world.

Through painting, I have a chance to investigate something that is evasive. I continually have to ask myself what it is that I see. I try hard to identify what it is, as it continuously slips. I never get a chance to see what it would be like if l did something else while painting because, what I love about painting is that you can’t undo the last mark. It is utterly instinctive, for me this makes the process of painting is addictive. I’m always hoping for improvement, but realising that grasping a frightening clarity by showing my true soul and that of the world is unattainable. But I keep coming back to try again. The question nearly always arises; do I risk spoiling it by continuing or do I start a new painting? I am a risk taker and painting suits my way of working and what I want to communicate. I love taking risks as l try to unlock the world about me.

I have a deep down urge to try to master a form of expression where I can communicate my unique view, where I am part of the painting. When I feel this, I feel like I am doing what I am here for. I get deep joy and despair, anxiety and confidence. I feel more alive.

©Stuart Bush A pocket full of dreams 2010 oil on canvas, 120.4 cm x 160.4 cm

This painting titled ‘A pocket full of dreams’. Take a moment to stop and think what this painting says to you. Pull back the curtain, to consider what it means to be human. In my view, people rely too much on words.

Obstacles I have overcome – being a perfectionist

©Stuart Bush, He has never been in love, he doesn’t even know what love is, gouache on cartridge paper, 43 x 24 cm – £200 + shipping enquire

One of the lessons and obstacles I have learnt to deal with is being a perfectionist. Over the years I have visited many galleries and museums and enjoyed looking at other artists work. I use to look at other artists work and compare my work to theirs. But l now realise that looking at other artists work and comparing mine to theirs is counterproductive.

Instead of being helpful the visits made me focus on my insecurities as an artist. I would ask myself; Am l talented? Is my work good enough? And, what if no-one likes my work? I was creating an impossible mindset to overcome. These thoughts were very destructive. However, I slowly came to realise I need to accept what I do and who I am by making my studio free of judgement.

Self-judgement is a learned behaviour that comes from living in our type of society. By comparing my work to someone else’s, I not only noticed that my work was not perfect, by someone else’s standards, I observed that l had changed my standards. These thoughts made me confused as to who I was making the work for; an audience or myself.

By thinking my work was not good enough against someone else’s standards, it was impossible to be playful and enjoy what I was doing. Without the freedom to play and take risks, my work had become stifled and dull.

To be an artist, I realised I need a lot of self-belief. I needed to bring excellence to every I do. By measuring myself against myself, rather than against others l came to realise that art is not like sport, it is not competitive; it is subjective. I needed to reassess what I see as good enough.

I now know that when I go to a gallery, it is useful to compare my thoughts and processes to other artist’s and their work but not their output. I realised that if I wanted to make successful artwork, I had to find a way through experimentation, trying things out and playing to improve what I have already created. Once I realised this, I was able to show up at the studio with a different intent. An intent to be present in the task and make better work than I did yesterday. From that point on I couldn’t help feeling good about my output and about myself.

 
Please read the related post – ‘Making better work than I did yesterday.’

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Live, paint, repeat

When starting as an artist rather than waiting for a big idea, I took my camera to the city. I took pictures of everything and anything that interested me. I just pressed and released the shutter. When l reviewed my photos, l realised that l was naturally discovering interesting material. My ideas came from living, painting and repeating.

When returning to the city with my camera, l followed my natural curiosity and my ideas deepened and expanded. At times it was hard to choose which way to take my work. It was essential to review and understand what l had. I took many directions but kept returning to taking photos of the city and taking them forward by painting them on canvas. The trick is not to give up Helsinki Bus Theory link.

I realised over time that my original idea was chasing some obscure knowledge through a simple process that I could repeat.

I feel like I have been painting the same painting for ten years as now I realise that my original ideas just got the work started. The original idea is still in my work but it has changed and developed in ways l could never have predicted. My work has grown to portray something unique that help us to understand our life on this earth a little better.

These seeds begin to germinate in many different directions like a plant does when it is attracted to light and water. It has taken many years for my original ideas and intentions to bloom into flowers. Now the interesting thing is not my original ideas or intentions. It is that l have found my way to communicate; my unique voice and inclination. As my work has deepened and expanded, it has lined up with natural talent, unlocking bigger ideas. Bigger ideas that l could never have predicted ten years ago.

The point of this post is that it is impossible to know where your practice as an artist will take you. One of the biggest challenges is learning to trust the decisions you make and to stop doubting yourself. Instead, l have developed confidence in my inner voice even when l can’t see where it is taking me.

My advice is to play, as there is no such thing as a mistake. Anything can lead to a breakthrough. If self-doubt is getting the best of you put your trust in a process and live, paint, repeat.

Over time when you review your work a way forward should reveal itself. Trust yourself and your creative process. Rather than paying attention to your own intentions, pay attention to what the work actually does. When the thinking and doing come together the work becomes more convincing.

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Making better work than I did yesterday

 
©Stuart Bush The rush 2016 oil on board 50 x 70 cm
My idea of success is linked to what l have rather than what l haven’t.  It is common to hear of success being tied to financial wealth.  That isn’t success for me; profit does not drive my artwork.  I have the opportunity to discover who l am, to find my own voice, to find my true self through my art.  My goal is to make better work today than l did yesterday, it is as simple as that.
 
I finished university in 2006 and when l look at my early paintings l can see l have taken small progressive steps each year.  Now over ten years later l know l have made significant progress. However, l feel as if l have been making the same painting for ten years, each time exploring my interest in seeing the body in space.  The concept of finding what my personal gift is and discovering my potential is more exciting than any material needs.  That is why l have chosen this life as an artist, or maybe it has chosen me. 
 
I see being an unknown artist as a positive thing.  It enables me to consider the long game, to build on each day and to go deeper to see what the ‘it’ is. Many of my paintings are built up gently in the studio.  Each painting supports the next one, thereby pushing me forward in a positive way.  I have a conviction, a commitment and the determination not to give up.  I believe firmly in what l am doing.
 
By doing art for myself, l can avoid criticism and avoid making commercial decisions.  This allows me to find a way forward without manufacturing art.  The art l make is more about emotions than constructions, more about art and poetry, and less about resolved ideas.  I want to make work for myself that l feel really passionate about,  l don’t want to dilute my work.  l want to make the decisions about what needs editing before the public see it.  I want my work to be the best that it can be.  I realise that this may divide the potential audience.  However, once the work is made public, it could potentially turn me into a public person. I’m not sure that l want that to happen.  I want to make work for a small audience that appreciates and supports my work. More importantly, I want to make the work for me.
 
I am a figurative painter, and I want to get close to the source.  I want to make work within an intellectual framework inspired by my muse, my muse being my experience of the city. This framework is the key to the art within me, allowing me not to overthink what l am doing and allowing me to initiate an inner response, thereby preventing me from being distracted by my head or my ego, competition with other artists or self-doubt.  Reflection comes later, after a period of time, when l can contemplate and think about what l have made.  
 
I want to make art as good as it can be. My competition is with myself and being better than yesterday.
 

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When the need to be creative gets inside of you

©Stuart Bush, The Quality of Absence, oil on aluminium panel 80 x 112 cm – £4000 + shipping enquiry
When you see a successful artist or creative person doing their thing, are you inspired and wish you could do what they do?  Instead of believing in yourself does self-doubt, or the risk of rejection, ridicule or humiliation stop you?  It might be the creative act itself or taking the artwork to the next level and letting other people see it that stops you.  However, the need to be creative is a powerful force.  When I haven’t been to the studio for a little while l feel its loss.  I’m sure many people reading this can relate to the need to be creative and also the need to hide their talents.
 
Have you heard about the sad story about a lady called Vivian Maier who lived in Chicago?  http://www.vivianmaier.com Vivian spent most of life working as a caregiver.  When she died, there were over 100,000 negatives found in a storage unit in her name. Throughout her life, she hid her passion from the outside world.  There is lots of speculation about why she did this, but no one will ever know for sure apart from Vivian herself.  Since her death, Vivian’s work has been compared to the world renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.
 
I think we build up self-doubt in our heads and it becomes a mindset that is often overwhelming.  It seems that Vivian hid her gift from the world because of her vulnerability.  I have also been trying to find a way to overcome the self doubt problem.  I found these words of advice from successful artists useful:
 
Vincent Van Gogh; “If you hear a voice within saying I cannot paint by all means paint and that voice will be silenced”.  
 
Susan Hiller; “To a young artist, I would say: just go day by day and see what happens. Don’t worry about other people’s judgment.”
 
Rachel Jones; “Ultimately, you have to understand who you are making your work for: it should be for you, that is the first thing.”
 
This is all very good advice but life isn’t that simple.  Questions like how to find time, how to keep positive while keeping your vision and integrity are extremely challenging.
 
In Eric Fischl’s book, ‘Bad Boy’, he gives some interesting advice, “Art is a process and a journey. All artists have to find ways to lie to themselves, find ways to fool themselves into believing that what they’re doing is good enough, the best they can do at that moment, and that’s okay. Every work of art falls short of what the artist envisioned. It is precisely that gap between their intention and their execution that opens up the door for the next work.”
 
And Chuck Close said, “‘Bread crumbs’, by working, stuff comes out of working.  That is very different from dreaming something up and executing it.  Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us show up and get to work.”
 
One further explanation from John Cleese.  Most of the time we are in a closed mind, think when we are at work.  There is a tension and pressure to get the work done.  There is lots to be done, and we have to get on with it so there is little humour.  It is purposeful time but not creative time.
 
Then there is the open mode, where we are relaxed and playful in what we do.  We follow our curiosity as we are not under pressure.  Through play we find what we like and want to do.
 
Do you have any thoughts on this subject?  What do you do to enable yourself to carry on when self-doubt creeps in?  Do you have any words of advice to help overcome self-doubt and procrastination?  Do you feel held back from following your creative instincts? 

All comments most welcome!!!    Please join in the conversation and make a comment.

©Stuart Bush, The Quality of Absence (in progress) – enquiry

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A painting has to stand up by itself

©Stuart Bush, A section of ourselves as a commodified object, oil on aluminum panel, 80 x 120cm

Often I think viewers look at works of art and immediately ask themselves why did the artist make this? Understanding the original idea or intention of why I made it defeats my ambitions for this artwork.  Instinct led me to paint this painting.  My aims are never going to be clear.

Braque said;

“the only thing that matters in art is what that cannot be explained.”

A person viewing an artwork comes to see the work with their own unique background, knowledge, and history. Art does not have a purpose and function like a design. It is not essential to try and understand why I made this artwork. The artwork now exists on its own, and it has to stand up by itself.

Everyone sees things differently.  Two things are put together, and they create meaning. The best artworks in my eyes mean different things to different people.

Like Duchamp said;

“the artist has only 50% of the responsibility and that is to get the work out, it is completed by the viewer.”

I’m interested in this part of myself where this artwork comes from. The parts of life I am curious about exploring and that I am hung up on.  I’m not in control of what comes out. Creativity is instinctive, and it is buried within me.