My love hate relationship with painting.

When I talk to artists, they tell me how much they love painting. The joy they get from spending time making something from scratch. I walk away from those conversations shaking my head, wondering why I don’t feel the same way. I hate painting. It stresses me out. It is my work. And I am extremely critical of my work. It feels so arbitrary. When I had a design firm, we always did hundreds of hours of work and created a logic and strategy to defend a design, so that the client would not argue with our work. There was a design strategy built on logic. So, really interesting work got approved. Because it made sense to everyone. There was a logic and strategy people bought into. Even if they didn’t like it. When it comes to art, that is not the case. You could be a brilliant artist, say Picasso, and half the world will hate your work. Why? They just will. It’s a subjective opinion. You can’t defend your work. People either love it or hate it or worst of all, are indifferent to it. And as an artist, you have to be comfortable with that sort of unpredictability. You have to be resilient and comfortable with your work regardless of what others think about it. You are putting yourself out there and exposing yourself to the risk of rejection.

So I had an idea. What if I could justify all of my work? Make it logical. Defend my strategy. Would that make people like my paintings more? If people could see the intricate strategy, philosophy, and logic behind the work, would that validate it? In many ways, that is exactly what art critics supply—an opinion that stands in for logic. Would Jackson Pollock’s Black and White, 1948, have had the same value without Clement Greenberg’s stamp of approval? An artist must have validation informed by an outside opinion—of a well-established art critic—in order to be taken seriously. But does this matter? At the end of the day, you either like a work, or not. There is no strategy or logic. It’s your opinion, informed or not.

Like I said, I hate painting.


Bill Cahan, March 9, 2021