I often paint in order to know/see what I feel. Sometimes what I feel is not only impossible to say, but also seemingly impossible to know for certain. Paint, color, texture, shapes–physical stuff–can sometimes do a better job of getting at these subtler shades of emotion and imagination.
My first and best memories are visual and physical, and often still ring with the palpable emotional charge I felt while drawing or painting or simply gluing stuff together. Despite working many years as a college professor, I’m still not able to articulate the deeper feelings with words. So I paint.
I recently turned 61 (which seems a lot older than 60 for some reason) and I’m really no closer to being able to say most of the truly important things without sensing a certain futility in the effort. Certainly it seems impossible to communicate things of first importance to strangers–and yet Christ calls me to love and provide for the stranger. Making art has been the main way I’ve sensed that I can do this, and because I’ve been at it so long, there have been many opportunities to exhibit and publish my work to a fairly wide audience. Art making may, when all is said and done, be more about perseverance in the craft and trying to express the non-verbal aspects of our lives, and I’m grateful that I have been allowed to continue in the studio all these years.
In a recent post, Alfonse Borysewicz wrote of his growing doubts about his vocation as artist, along with the difficulty of continuing to paint in the absence of gallery or church demand for his work. Why fill the world with more images that no one seems to want? I doubt that he meant his essay as a plea for encouragement, but I wanted to say, “Keep painting … please.” Why? Is it because I need to know that others like me exist? Is it because I am an inveterate encourager even when the world seems to be so dark and pointless at times? Actually, I believe I want Alfonse to keep painting because the world needs genuine things made by human hands. And his work is genuine. And good.
The world needs handmade things.
Because Meg and I believe this, our home is filled with such things, and everyone who has ever visited or stayed with us says the same thing: “We love it here. We sleep better here. Can we just come and live with you?” And a bunch of folks have done just that over the years. At one point it began to feel just a little too much like the hippie commune I lived on in the late 1960s!
I believe this response to our home has everything to do with the fact that I built it with my own hands and largely with local materials (actually, I built the house twice because the first one burned down from a severe lightning strike). I also believe that people are at ease in our home because the walls and shelves are covered with handmade things: children’s art, art by contemporary painters and sculptors, knick-knacks. There is a large piano, as well as guitars and an accordion, in a large open room, with an open invitation for anyone to sing, play, participate or just kick back and soak it all in. By making things we discover not only what we feel, we also welcome others into our most intimate space of feeling, and in so doing, share insight into our shared humanity.