I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently and was delighted that my date also gravitated to the Impressionists. I can’t get enough of staring at a jovial Renoir portrait with its magnificent detail or taking in all the texture and subtlety of a Monet landscape. As I marveled at the light radiating off a particular Monet canvas, I laughingly remarked to my companion, “Do you suppose these guys were worried about how marketable or popular their work would be? Or how much money they’d make from it?”
Ridiculous, right? The notion that Renoir or Monet or Picasso or even Mozart or Beethoven or Chopin gave a hoot about what the “people” wanted. An insightful, artistic friend recently handed me a book by Brenda Ueland called, If You Want To Write. Intrigued by his apparent enthusiasm, I read the book cover to cover. Now I, too, will be recommending it to others and here’s why: not only is it inspiring and validating but it encourages making art for pleasure, absent of any other motivation.
“It is our nasty twentieth century materialism that makes us feel: what is the use of writing, painting, etc., unless one has an audience or gets cash for it? Socrates and the men of the Renaissance did so much because the rewards were intrinsic, i.e., the enlargement of the soul,” Ueland writes.
Think about it. What enlarges your soul? Creating a character that feels bigger than the page? Painting something that makes your eyes happy? Knitting a scarf because the repetition is simultaneously soothing and rewarding? Ceramics? Scrapbooking? Photography? How many times have you heard actors extol the value of working on a film that was not a box office smash but provided a meaningful artistic challenge for them? Clubs and coffeehouses cram their calendars with musicians who work in offices and schools and hospitals by day, but fulfill their craving to share their talent with others a few nights a week.
You can make this work for you and rest assured you will feel a sense of balance and calm like no other. I leave you with this observation from Ueland. “[Van Gogh] loved something — the sky, say. He loved human beings. He wanted to show human beings how beautiful the sky was. So he painted it for them. And that was all there was to it.”