Only Human

Last night, as I began teaching another painting workshop, I wondered again what motivates people to put up hard earned cash and move their bodies across town (sometimes across the country) to take a painting workshop. For the most part, these are not aspiring professionals wanting to hone their skills, but folks with careers in other lines of work. I used to think that painting was just a hobby for them and a group class was a safe bet for some entertainment and relaxation. But now I’m not so sure. I have given it some thought and I believe that there is a deeper, more fundamental motivation that drives us to want to learn to paint.

Artists Sketching in the White Mountains by Winslow Homer

“Artists Sketching in the White Mountains”
by Winslow Homer

We have written before about creativity and the new scientific studies investigating the human impulse to create. It is a fascinating subject precisely because it isn’t well understood, and because in some ways artistic creativity has no practical advantage (that we can see) for our immediate survival. For instance, it takes time and resources to make an object such as an essential tool. To then devote additional time to decorate that tool instead of using it immediately for hunting or preparing food, doesn’t make much sense when food is the priority. In a tribal context, everyone must contribute to the welfare of the whole for the tribe to prosper. So why do we find elaborate and extensive cave paintings made by neolithic hunters from 40,000 years ago? These tribes would have had to support those early artists – feed them – while they took time to make the paintings. Recently, archaeologists have found carved and decorated tools made by our primitive ancestors which are over 300,000 years old. The impulse to express something from within seems to be a very ancient need.

When I think about what motivates my students to be present, I now believe that it is related to that ancient need to create, apart from the other activities in their lives. There is something essential in the act of creation, or in simply learning to create, that answers this need. I can teach them all sorts of useful and necessary techniques which are helpful in the long run. But in the moment, which is all we really have, I try to keep in mind that if I fail to connect to the real reason they are present, then I probably have failed to connect with them at the most universal, fundamental level. It is love of creation that brings us together at these moments, and in that, we are all one big tribe.

Upcoming OPA Events

OPA Fall 2018 Online Showcase OPA Fall 2018 Online Showcase
The Fall 2018 Online Showcase is from October 1 - December 15, 2018 and will be open to both Associate and Signature members. Learn More!
OPA 2018 Eastern Regional Exhibition OPA 2018 Eastern Regional Exhibition
OPA's 2018 Eastern Regional Exhibition is being hosted by McBride Gallery, located in Annapolis, Maryland, October 28 through November 25, 2018. Learn More!
2019 Virtuosos of the OPA 2019 Virtuosos of the OPA
Once again Oil Painters of America is pleased to present "The Virtuosos of the OPA Juried Exhibition of Traditional Oils", hosted by Cutter & Cutter Fine Art, in St. Augustine, Florida. Learn More!