A Love of Labor

Most people do not realize that an artist has a particular love for labor. All motivation springs from within an artist who engages the world. There is rarely an outside source that can call him to labor as relentlessly as that inner voice who desires to speak. That is why the artist can enter the studio day after day, year after year and do his work. There is a bit of the hermit in us all. Time alone engaged in the observation of the world and the constant fascination and study of the craft of painting is a sheer joy. It is the prayer of the artist- his cry of joy at the immensity and beauty of the world joined with this love of the act of creating. The motto of the Benedictine monks is Ora Labora– prayer and work. It is the source of all true contemplation- thoughts merged into action. And contemplation is the real goal of man, his particular goal that seperates him from the animal. The poet, Charles Baudelaire muses that, “…only great work comes from an idle nation.” Contemplation enriches the very fibre of society. It is why fine art can never be replaced by machines. Contemplation does not come through an email or twitter feed. It resides solely in a “record of soul”, in art.

Last week, I camped in Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine. An elemental place of sea and rock colliding endlessly upon the shore. A place of epic scale and imaginative potential. It was unbelievably easy to paint there. Many days I spent in basically the same place near Otter Point- grand and beautiful. I spent about 8-9 hours a day painting and wished at the end of it that I could keep going and never sleep. It was good to camp near the painting sight so that all my energy could be directed to painting and at night reading by the camp fire.

How far we wander away from all those natural experiences- the fire, the night sky, the nocturnal sounds, the rain. How simple one’s life becomes living out of a tent. How much when I am present there, I could go on indefinitly, laboring relentlessly during the day and sitting and contemplating by the fire at night. How one achieves a real balance, a sense of satisfaction that is not eroded by the hastles of the outside world.

It speaks so much from my idealism. But why not. Taking a literal “pause” from the world is a way to re-evaluate one’s existence, one’s sense of meaning. I look at these painting excursions as a metaphysical retreat. A way to take oneself out of the ordinary engagement with the world and see existence as it should be seen and honored. It gives one a profound feeling for one’s own being and one’s real relationship to others. Is not this the true goal of art- to help one re-evaluate oneself and find the proper relationship between oneself, the world and others. Art is the place that brings that freedom, that place where being attaches itself to meaning and from that attachment one gains inner, moral strength to grow, to change. Art is the place of real engagement, a place of “significances”.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

3 thoughts on “A Love of Labor”

  1. Looking at your paintings from Acadia again after a couple of months have past is a real treat. You capture the feeling and movement and texture of the water and rocks so truly and decisively that I can almost taste it. So difficult to do with the water changing every moment! You make really great choices of what you want to capture in a painting. My experience with the many and formidable difficulties of painting the same subject causes me to delight in your creations all the more.

  2. So well said Judith. It was the same for me.Spending all day each day trying to find with paint what the rocks and surf are about gave me a deep sense that I was doing what I was called on to do.
    Your paintings are beautiful and seeing you “in your element” at work on your large canvases is amazing.

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