“Why I Paint”

from Christine Zachary

As always, I spend a lot of time wondering about the meaning of life, the meaning of art, the meaning.

In particular, I have come to a plateau in my life where some of my friends are dying off, where I feel I am aging. And for us all, there is the peculiar feeling of impermanence which pervades everything. That we are just some speck in the vast universe sometimes makes my efforts at art or anything else seem trivial or meaningless. Of course these thoughts have been reflected or said by many. Plato speaks of the world of reality as looking at the shadows on the wall of a cave.  Pindar calls life the dream of a shadow.  skias onar anthropos.

Recently I asked myself again what in the world I was doing. Should I be out “saving the world,” which seems on a mad road of waste and destruction? Should I make some big political statement about what things are like?  Should I be spending all my time hanging out with friends? Or praying all the time? None of these seem an answer, so I return to being rather quiet, leading a solitary life for the most part, and painting.

I personally think that the value of art for me is not a political or a conceptual statement, but something deeper, and in this sense I think it is important for me to look in that direction of what is deeper and that something I hope to be revealed as I work. I’m always looking for something. I think it important to try to listen to that fire behind the shadow on Plato’s wall, to wake from the dream or at least be awake while dreaming.

This has made me realize that the important thing is to try to emulate the Japanese poet Basho who says how reluctant the bee is to emerge from deep within the peony, and his parallel to Plato too: that existence is a rope bridge around which existence twines. To me art is the rope bridge.  To be like Basho and follow his zen journey of wandering is to look at the peony and in that joy perhaps be able to share it a moment with others.  Today: so much anger, fear, suffering. Can a color or an image make any difference? Can cleaning the kitchen make a difference? I hope so.  And in an odd way I am convinced what I do is important.

The brink has always been here, but we can only be happy. It is truly a choice. None of us need that “15 minutes of fame” as much as we need a lifetime of wisdom.

The Impermanent Nature of Things
oil on panel