Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Our Voice"

"Our Voice" " We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” Buddha In my classes, I always remark that one thing I love about painting - in watercolor especially - and also about painters in general, is the fact that we all begin with the same few simple tools: a couple of brushes, paper, some pigments, and water. But a hundred artists could go out with these same basic tools and paint the exact scene. And by day’s end, there would be one hundred completely different, and completely unique results. Some might say that this can be explained by “talent” or by levels of skill, etc. And yes, those things can be factors. But that’s almost never quite what I see. I see one hundred individual artists shining through – one hundred different voices trying to be heard. One of the greatest compliments I can ever receive as an artist, is when someone says, “From across the room, I could tell that was your work. I’d recognize it anywhere.” If nothing else, it helps to confirm that I am on my own path. Possibly the greatest goal we can all have as artists is to learn to develop our own, individual voice - the only one that can express our personal inspirations and vision in a way that no one else possibly could. I get enormous support and inspiration as an artist from various philosophical and spiritual teachings - Buddhism among them - and that for it’s pragmatic simplicity, emphasis on the calmness and joy of the present moment, gratitude, and a sense of personal responsibility. One of its most fundamental teachings is that “ We ourselves must walk the path - no one can do it for us”. This is a joyful thought to me - not one that fills me with sorrow or loneliness. To me it says that I am in the driver’s seat of my life and only I can shape my present and therefore, determine my future. Another simple yet powerful quote by the wise man himself, and one that perfectly sums up my thoughts about living and painting is, "It is better to travel well than to arrive”. Absolutely. I would hope as artists we feel we are always moving and growing. There is always something new to learn and ways to grow. If we ever feel we have “arrived”, we are finished. Philosophy aside, when we are learning to paint, it is almost inevitable that we will be influenced by other more established artists doing work we admire. Up to a point this is understandable and perfectly OK. But sometimes - even without thinking - it becomes far too easy to then begin to mimic their ideas, their palettes, their compositions, etc. This is - of course - a dead end. It is also an insult to those artists we claim to respect, and worse, an insult to ourselves. It means we are not listening to our own voice, but trying to borrow that of another. There is no art to be found there. To be influenced is one thing, but to mimic or imitate - quite another. Back to the simplicity of Buddhism, it also teaches that “everything we need - we already have”. How I love that idea! As a painter, the trick of course is to be able to clear away enough useless and surplus noise and negativity to be able to accept and take full advantage of that. For me, practice is the thing. The more I paint, the easier I find it becomes to just get lost within that process and the world of the painting in front of me. For the time it takes me to do that painting, that is all the world I wish to know. It then does get easier bit by bit to be able to pay no attention to all that external noise; to tune out all those voices that tell us we need to get this or that commission, into this exhibition, or that gallery, or to get praise from this or that person or group. We tell ourselves we need these things to know that we are finally "good enough”. But if this is on your mind while painting, “success” will be a very illusive thing. And while all those things may be great in their way, none of them can ever hope to tell us convincingly if we’re actually good enough. Only we have the power to do that. And only when we can learn to listen more intently to that voice within - to take advantage of resources we already have - will we know if we’re on the right path or not. And we will know – since we already have all we need. It’s just in practice that we begin to realize it and to more clearly hear that voice - the one that already knows who we are and how we wish to express that unique individual we are by means of our work. "Kiyomizu in Snow" - Kyoto. Thomas W Schaller - 2014


  1. Great painting! as always. Happy Christmas!

    1. Thank you so very much Julian. And a vEry Merry Christmas to you too! Tom.

  2. To mimic long term is to stifle one's own creativity - agreed. Beginners though have to paint often enough and long enough for them to pick up the painting skills (mixing, colour, composition, brush skills) sufficient for them to be able to develop their own style. And better for them to copy and try out various masters and good artists than to copy the inadequate and incompetent. Then in between their copies they can start to do their own paintings. I think as long as they don't try to sell their copies or display it publicly its OK to copy during the learning phase. I hope this is OK with you as I love one copy I did of your work and I learned heaps about colour, about light and how not to cover every inch of the paper leaving the light to come through. And I'm more than happy to credit you with it all - well I would but no-one outside the family has seen it, though I will show my local teacher next week. So thanks so much for putting your work online. I'm not likely to meet up with you as you live on the other side of the world and it is great to see work I couldn't otherwise see. Your play of light is wonderful to explore.

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