Colin Campbell is my art teacher, and he says,
"Tell me why you want to paint."
I can't answer; I don't know.
O ye great gods and little fishes -
Why Do I?

My Goals:

To paint something so that the act of painting helps me more nearly to see the essence of it, whether it's a scene, a being, or an inner image. This is another way of seeing the unseen, of really seeing something subtle or easy to not-see. When I was young and did much more drawing, I looked at things with a more 'seeing eye' and I want to regain that, enhanced by whatever wisdom and compassion I've learned in the meantime.

To find a way of expressing the images of my dreams and meditations. When I write about a dream or an image, I understand it better. When I draw or paint the image, I also understand it better in a very different but equally, perhaps even more important way. Sometimes I feel that my inner world, like the outer world, is so crowded with magic and power and the movement of energies, beneath, above and within consciousness, that I need a way of focusing on just one aspect until I can comprehend it more fully. When I am painting or drawing something, working from the proper space in myself, the image seems to talk to me, awakening me and illuminating new concepts and new ways of seeing the universe.

To help me to feel more fully. I am aware that sometimes, usually unconsciously, I try to avoid feeling my true response to a situation or a person, either through denial or through intellectualizing it rather than feeling it. Drawing or painting it, symbolically or representatively, keeps attention focused on its reality and on a true response to it. One's ability to experience any emotion is limited by one's ability to experience all of the others, so this is about opening closed or partly closed doors.

To be able, at least once in a while, to make the flow and energy I perceive in the world visible on paper.

To challenge myself, to learn something new, to be able to do something I've always wanted to do.

To liberate a part of myself that is unfree and fearful. Perhaps to find out what that part is really afraid of, but certainly to release the fear and go for the joy.

This all sounds very philosophical and intellectual, but some things are best experienced (felt) and not thought about. Painting can be a way of doing just that, of staying in the feeling and sensation of the image without analysis. So. . .

To make another kind of magic, just for the joy it gives me — not because it's useful or needed or praised. I do enough things that are important to other people. This is something just for me, to fill my own needs. The doing is far more important than any results — although occasional good results (whatever they are) would be pleasing.

Ecstatic Responses

A long time ago I was having a conversation with the goddess within, and she said she wanted me to give up all of my defenses. I said, surely we need at least some of our defenses because it is a pretty rough, tough world. But she said, No. It's only when you give up all your defenses that you become invulnerable.

This was one of those things that, when you hear it, resonates with something inside you, like a well-struck gong, ringing and ringing for days, even years.

My right brain said, 'Yes! Absolutely so!'

But my alarmed left brain said, 'Wait — this does not compute!' And since my left brain is largely in control of my mouth, I said defensively, 'I don't see how I can do this. I don't even know what all my defenses are.'

She said, I'll help.

This is how I get into things — they sound so reasonable at the time. So, I have been working on giving up my defenses, and each time one collapses, I find to my surprise (or at least to the surprise of my left brain) that I feel more vulnerable and more open to pain and grief, but I am much stronger when it comes to dealing with the hard things of life. I can experience them more honestly, not deny them, and it feels to me as if they give me added depth. I can comprehend better, be more compassionate, come closer to unconditional love. And I can come closer to accepting the unconditional love of the Presence and letting it work in and through me.

This happens to all of us when we decide that we want to be open instead of closed — and being closed is such a scrunched up feeling, so cramped and uncomfortable, that we are likely, sooner or later, to make that choice for openness.

In addition to this, I also find that I experience the little joys of life — the light on the water, the lambs frolicking, the cat's kiss, finding a wild violet and then a whole bunch more violets, the green, green, green of spring, the scent of lilacs, the electric blue of the sky between the clouds — more vividly, more piercingly, more like a powerful, undeniable physical sensation, an irresistible force.

In particular, at present I am finding that what I see, inside and out, is intoxicating, ecstasy evoking. I am trying to think why this should be so at the moment, and not coming up with any answers. It just does. It just is. And I need to let it splash out, like a fountain, freely overflowing.

Why I Want To Paint

Some things, so many things are so beautiful, so filled with the numinous Presence that we just can't contain the intensity of the experience. It is necessary to sing, to write, to dance, to paint, to do something that will allow the energy to pass through. Otherwise we might explode.

When we are young, we do explode — we run, we shout, we sing and dance, we become dizzy and wild with ecstasy of just being. Then we are gradually socialized, civilized, suppressed by society around us and by our own desire to please. As we grow up, we each find our own way of dealing with this overwhelming grace — and with the overwhelming pains we also encounter. Some of us learn to close our inner eye so we see only the surface of things and not their essence, their power to move us and to give potency and meaning to life. Some of us get angry about this suppression and go around filled with rage. Some of us find a way to channel the energy into some kind of creative activity. Most of us do a lot of the first, some of the second, and varying bits of the last.

If we are working on our spiritual development, we cannot afford to do things, like not truly seeing the beauty of the world, that make us smaller. Nor can we block out the world's pains and sorrows. To refuse to see and to share, to refuse to have compassion is only another way of making ourselves smaller. It is important to experience both the joy and the pain fully as they come. Otherwise we become unbalanced and lose whatever sanity we have.

But if we are going to allow ourselves to fully experience life without the defenses that wall us in, we have to have ways to pass the energy on through. The more we take in, the greater the need for expression.

We can express this energy through healing, singing, dancing, sculpting, cooking, playing, painting, gardening, making music, making love, and many other activities. Each of us will find that some forms provide a greater and more satisfying expression of energy than others. Also, different activities each seem to give their own type of release. Some allow us to think more clearly, some encourage us to see more fully, some help us to really listen, some to touch more tenderly and perceptively. They all both release energy and enhance our reception of it — which requires more release! Eeek!

Perhaps if I could do one thing superlatively well (healing would be my choice), it would suffice, but I can't — not that well, not yet — and anyway, I think it probably wouldn't. I suspect it would just become obsessive and generate its own explosion or implosion. So. . .

The more we allow ourselves to take this energy, this Presence in, the more we need to expand our abilities to express and channel the Presence. We have to keep branching out. Perhaps ultimately our whole lives must become continual expressions of that creative joy.

Besides, even if none of the above is really true (although at this moment I do think it is), painting is such fun.

Luckily, all of my painting goals can be achieved without becoming a Great Artist. I simply need to paint.

Copyright ©1993 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
This first appeared in print in Otherworld Arts, 1995.

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Jessica Macbeth