A heart-felt pondering of life purpose, this question also has a practical edge; what is my focus - how do I get into gear - as I approach the shed?
The shed is my studio, but I prefer shed - it's a little more down to earth. I also love the idea of shedding things. We shed stuff so that other stuff can open up.
I once wrote that 'Art is a way of making meaning in our lives'. I still hold to that in some sense, but I might re-describe it as a way of making discoveries in our lives. Meaning is such a heavily laden word. A few years back I asked a visiting teacher: "Please do not laugh, but what is the meaning of life?" He laughed and said, "Does life have to have a meaning?".
These words are easy to misinterpret. Indeed they are still a deep mystery to me, but I do know they are not nihilistic. They point to an opening-up, a wide welcoming of all that life has to offer. In contrast, 'meaning' can sometimes close things down, shutting us off from the other or the offer. This is especially true for meaning we invest with great importance (often for ourselves).
People have asked, 'Does art have to have a meaning?' Those in the ‘art for art’s sake’ camp would argue against. Eco-Artists would argue for. Personally, I am not interested in an art world that only has reference to its own parameters - quite the opposite. But I would go as far as to say that art is better off with a purpose than a meaning.
So to help me on my short walk from house to shed, I try to define what it is I do with my art practice. What is the purpose? Here is my current best shot:
For me, art is a way of opening up to life. It is the expression and exploration of a question, an open enquiry into the unknown. And these days I am less inclined to think it is my job to offer an answer.
Instead I hold the question and try to capture the felt-sense of the exploration, letting go the stories that loop in my mind and finding what lies beneath. What is that quality? How to stay present there and let this infuse my work?
From this space of open enquiry questions unfold. Some I am currently working on include: How to land a line on the page without meaning or tethering of any sort? How to shed all pretense, and paint from the gut? What is left when all else is shed?
Meanwhile the wax flows when hot then settles into stillness. I build up layers then quietly peal them back. The heat-gun squints what the scraper straightens and mistakes become discoveries.
Each step in the creative process involves an opening. Each layer becomes a koan in itself - something to be expressed. How can we open up to exactly this, shedding all else, encompassing all else?
My job is to stay open to the process and convey my experience, then invite the viewer to consider theirs in response.