Tuesday, January 19, 2010

No Small Topic - The Purpose of Art

Cottage on Corsica
Watercolour - 8" x 11"

This watercolour is a scene from the island of Corsica, France. My inspiration came as I 'virtually' toured the island in Google Street View. I painted it for Bill Guffey’s monthly Virtual Paintout.

The past week has been wonderful for my brain – my head is swimming with concepts about art and its value and about the creative process. What immense topics! Let me explain, at least in part.

Climbing into my WayBack Machine*, I recall a younger, slimmer Shelley, a Fine Arts Major, an earnest idealist about to graduate and puzzled about the value of art. “Perhaps” she said to herself, “my time is better spent on something more tangibly meaningful?” Before she found the answer to that question, her search was usurped by the birth of her first dear daughter and then, awhile later, another one, just as dear. Those babies were certainly tangibly meaningful, no questions there. Her life was busy, raising kids, helping run a family business, and so on (“so on” means divorce). Art was set aside and so was the question about its value.

Cut to today. 

This is the Me now, the older and wiser person and questions are arising again. Based on my past two years of painting workshops, regular drawing, and voracious reading about art and artists, I feel enough grasp on technique that I am freed up to consider the content and meaning of my paintings. My questions are: “Now that I know how to paint, what should I paint? Are beautiful pictures enough? Do I have something to say? What is the purpose? Is there value?”

Hooray for maturity, this time I am able to find the answers. You know that expression “Nothing has power like an idea whose time has come”. I am living that. Since I made the decision to paint and to write, I found that all the information that I need comes to me from all directions. I wonder if the answers were there all along and I just wasn’t listening. No matter, I am listening now. This path of discovery is enthralling.  It will take more posts to tell you about the answers I've found.  Stay tuned.

* The WayBack Machine is a term borrowed from the Internet Archive website.

PS... the Golden Pot is coming along. Still on the easel. I'll post it when finished.


  1. Great post! I love your Corsica watercolor - I want to go down that road. I understand where you are coming from. Way back when I was a student I was looking for some deep meaning in my art. Then we had Kiddo and that was all the meaning I needed. Now that I am older I feel I much better understand my relationship to my art. I look forward to your further thoughts on the subject :-)

  2. I found that cottage, too! Isn't it just enchanting?
    Your still life paintings are incredible!

  3. Hi Ann - I'm glad that my writing connected with you. It is thrilling how much easier this process is now compared to when I was twenty.
    I suggest you take a look at the Corsica painting done by Leslie Hawes - her comment is just below yours. She painted the very same cottage which is quite amazing considering we both 'drove' around Corsica separately and had thousands of things to choose from. Her rendition is delightful.

    Hi Leslie! Nice to meet you. What a coincidence, we must have the same taste in cottages. :-)

  4. Hey Shelley - a lot of good vibes in this post. The natural colors you got in this watercolor piece are magnificant. I just finished my Corsica painting this AM. I wish to live there. I remember the wayback machine from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon (I think it was Mr. Peabody and Sherman who had adventures like making sure the Wright Bros. flew when they were supposed to, etc.) As for the purpose of art - vast subject. I think I do art because I have to, and that by doing this at least some folks will see why somehow.

  5. Wonderful Shelley, both the painting of Corsica and the words. Such truths in there for so many of us. Thank you.

  6. I did loved your painting.
    I'm an addicted to The Virtual Paintout since I discovered it, last month.

  7. Emerson said "Skill do comes from doing", I think one part of our Art is to make something and to struggle to reach what we want to always go further

  8. Ha! Gary! Peabody, I forgot about that. So the Internet Archive must have borrowed the idea for the cartoon.

    You're welcome, Liz..Good to know I'm connecting.

    Hey, Murilo, I looked at your drawings on Flickr, very nice, so much detail and perfect perspective.

    Yes, Fellow Artist (good name, btw) I agree with your thoughts... to reach out.