The Love of Art

My partner Anie and I have been together for more than 20 years—long enough to know the ups and downs of long-term love. Our culture tries to tell us that love is simple and pure. Humans have always been drawn to this idea, defined as the sudden onset of an overwhelming feeling that pulsates between two people for time and all eternity. ‘True love’ we call it, implying that any other way of loving is false. Those of us who have been around love long enough know the deeper truth: love is far more complicated and nuanced than that. Love can be uplifting, messy, encouraging, challenging, heartbreaking, and life-changing; all in the time between supper and sleep. Poet N.R. Hart writes: “Yes, love can be wondrously complicated, it can be confusing, and it can be terrifying. But if it wasn’t all those things, then it isn’t love.” There are times when the pulsating feeling rolls in, and there are others when you want to pack it in and walk away. If I had to define it, I’d guess I’d say love is the word we use to describe the process of staying to find out what happens next.*

Art, as in love, is a wild and complex path. There is no one road to becoming an artist, and it is often identified more by what you can’t do without, rather than deciding to do something you want. I often ask myself the question: if not this, then what? And for the most part I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing than making art. I can’t help myself; I love making things. It’s built into my DNA and my brain chemistry and my heart’s desire. There are moments where I want to walk away but, like love, I know I’m into it for the long game. While the simplicity of slinging coffee or driving a haul truck has its short-term appeal, I know that punching a clock was never really in the cards for me. When I’m tempted to leave my art it’s always a fleeting feeling caused by some tiring obstacle that, once solved, becomes a formative moment in my practice. 

The journey through art and love are driven by my desire to get to the deep, significant places. I’ve always believed that we learn as much or more from the failures and struggles than from the successes, and that wisdom bears out in my relationships and in my art. I have to put in the work if I want to get to the new place—the place with a deeper understanding of the world, of my community, of myself. Art and love are mirrors and if I can manage to glimpse myself in the flash of that mirror, I can grow. 

Sometimes showing up looks a lot like sitting on the couch and staring at nothing. Other times it looks like wiping the paint away and starting again. The reality of the artist’s way is that the heavy lifting is done somewhere in the subconscious mind—just out of reach. Accessing those vague thoughts and fleeting pictures requires time and space for the swirl to boil over into the conscious mind where we can turn it over, ask it a few pointed questions, and send it back into the depths for more tumbling. In some ways making art is like making beer: we all have the raw materials, but the artist becomes familiar with the fermentation of those materials to get them to break down and re-form into new and delicious flavours. Doing the work means smelling the grist, turning the mash, and drawing out samples as the ideas age and mature. Anyone can make beer from a kit at home, but the really good brewers lie awake for half the night dreaming up new recipes. 

In the end, the single most important aspect of making good art, and good love, is a desire to show up. We need to be willing to sit and stare at the wall for a while, to try new ideas, and to let those ideas stretch our minds and hearts into new shapes. You want to be an artist? You want to be a lover? I’ll warn you; it’s complicated and messy but if you show up you’ll be sure to find out what happens next. 

* This statement is advocating for clear and honest (if imperfect) communication, and acceptance of the variety of facets of a long-term relationship that are sometimes only achievable through shared hard-times and level self-appraisal. It is not a suggestion that anyone should stay in a relationship that is in any way abusive. No one should ever do that—that’s not love. If you are in an abusive relationship, please call for help at the BC VictimLink hotline: 1-800-563-0808