A lady I know who is an academic and artist asked me why I paint. I think the implication of the question was that my clear interest in what might be termed conceptual art, or even writing and cultural criticism, seemed to make painting sort of a weird artistic medium for my expressive needs. I was flummoxed at the time, but I’ve since discovered that I paint because it makes my daimon happy. In fact, the word happiness has its roots in the Greek word eudaimonia, which means “eu” (“good”) and “daimon” ("spirit"). According to Plato, we all came to this planet with a guardian spirit who remembers why we came here, even though we no longer do, and it is in constant need of pursuing that activity, whatever it may be. This is why we feel happy when we “follow our bliss.” There is much more depth to the meaning of eudaimonia, including the necessity of living a virtuous life, which is connected to our actions as well. I’m compelled to make shapes on canvas, to choose colors and smear them around in increasingly specific directions because it makes me happy. When I don’t paint I feel depressed and unhappy. I’m often aware of the silliness of it, of the fact that my paintings have no value to anyone. At least that is one view of the matter, that painting, and particularly abstract expressionism, is a self-indulgent pastime for people who lack real skills and can’t make it in the world of grown ups.
But what anyone else thinks or feels is totally irrelevant when it comes to art making. Making art, painting, writing, dancing, they are all such deeply personal activities that mean the world to whoever is making it in the moment. In those moments when I’m painting, or lately, making collages, I’m not really there anymore, my ego self, the one that is always screaming for attention, she quiets down, and the silence of the unconscious rises to the top and takes over. A sort of feeding time begins- the soul feeds on this quiet serenity which comes with psychic creative expression and whether or not a masterpiece comes out the other end just depends on the level of talent, which is an independent factor. Anyone can make art and reach these levels of communion between the soul and the psyche, but not everyone can make something objectively remarkable. I think for the sake of this post, we’ll leave the quality of the art out of it. I’m so sick of value-driven consciousness anyway. The point is that all of us need this sort of communion in order to be happy and healthy and useful. Some get it while gardening, others get it while exercising and still others get it when sailing, or building model airplanes. In the great scheme of things, it matters not which activity we use to reach these depths of inner connection. And the product of these explorations are essentially the same. It’s only our cultural prerogatives which make a painting more valuable than a solitary sailboat ride on a Sunday afternoon. Nietzsche has harsh words for this practice: “Just look at these superfluous people! They steal for themselves the works of inventors and the treasures of the wise: they call their theft culture - and they turn everything to sickness and calamity.” The art world today is a cesspool of acquisitive monkeys busy enriching themselves, selling countless souls to the devil and keeping the global billionaire status quo safe on a bedrock of false cultural legitimacy. The art world helps them maintain their positions by giving them a lie they can hide behind, when in fact they are feeding the frenzy of corruption and greed in the hearts of artists and arts administrators worldwide.
In every corner of the globe one can see the putrefying effects of capitalism rotting out every activity that once had honor, dignity and honesty in it.
Even though I intend to sell my artwork as a means of earning my daily bread, I plan to seek ways in which these kinds of exchanges can be conducted with simple honesty. There are ways to discuss a cash exchange for goods that is equitable for everyone involved, that doesn't have greed or a dark unknowingness behind it. In my daily life I actively play with and dance with economic and fiscal issues, always finding new ways of articulating the meaning of value. I stop myself from buying things indiscriminately. Even when it's something I actually really need, I think about it for a long while before I end up buying it, and when I do buy it, I buy the thing that has no misery attached to it (this is also why I don't eat meat anymore). All that is required is that we desist from blindly pulling levers and pushing papers for the consumerism empire. One great way of putting space between your self and your consumption habits is to find time each day for this soul space, where the needy ego takes a break, and your serenity self takes control of the reigns. Don’t say: “I have no time.” Our world is in free fall. All that is “good and green on this earth” is at stake right now. Make the time, make your family take the time too. Stop everything and go for a walk together, no cell phones allowed. Each day, you can find this quiet space and tend to your soul. The soul will grow strong and new ways of interacting with the world will crop up naturally.
It’s vital that we each begin the long walk towards changing our consumption habits. Taking time to tend our souls each day will help us get on this road with more enthusiasm and love. Eudaimonia is a way of living virtuously, and living in this way naturally grows happiness.
So this is why I paint. Because my soul needs it the same way my body needs oxygen. Each of us has a soul that needs something as much as the physical body needs food and water, especially parents, who have given up their soul’s desires in exchange for their children’s. If we find out what our soul needs and do it each day, then we won’t be as easy to manipulate into buying things that are made by child slaves in impoverished countries, and other truly horrific acts perpetrated by corporations that we support with our money everyday (whether we like it or not).
We live in a world of cause and effect. Every action has a reaction. What we do, what we buy, what we support, it all matters. But we have a choice, and no matter how challenging or inconvenient it may be, we can choose to change. It’s the only serious way we can help the world: by changing our own habits, right now, this minute.
Let’s get busy people. We’re in big trouble and have no time to waste.