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Hunting for the muse


Recently a friend asked me what is my muse. At first I didn’t know what to say. I did say that I just always wanted to do something like this; it wasn’t until I was twenty I knew it was painting. But I can’t stop thinking about the question, especially as I paint. And as I can’t stop painting, what keeps me going! And going and going and going. What is my muse?

People are often asking me what is my inspiration. I usually say painting. One painting leads to another, spawns a direction, a feeling that needs to be pursued. But muse is a different thing: it’s what starts and keeps me going. It’s the underlying drive to create, even before inspiration, even before I know “what” I am going to paint. My muse doesn’t care what I paint, just that I respect the desire and do it.

Here’s my list of muses.

My children: I have always kept photos of my children in my studio. They are inspiration to be a good example for them, that it can be done, that one can overcome obstacles. I’ve had a lot to learn over the years and they have been along helping me.

That tree: I’ve probably mentioned this before here, but I’m talking about a single tree in the middle of the field behind my childhood home. There was a dairy farm behind our house. The tree used to be my closest friend. I would look out at it, see the cows grazing under it, sheltered by it when it rained. It was struck by lightening many times, had huge gashes down its sides. But it never fell. Later the farm was sold and hundreds of little tract houses were built. The tree came down but it still lives in my memory. It’s strength.

Mistakes: The willingness to make mistakes, keep going, redo. At this point, I can make a “good” painting, but that is not enough. I see mistakes as inspiration, a challenge. So letting go of something that is “good” is a challenge to possibly make a mistake and keep going. It is almost as if I court trouble, but now I keep that urge on the canvas. It leads to a depth of communication I wouldn’t find otherwise. My muse keeps me on track.

Stubbornness: The way my poet friend Nanci Lee works, writes her poems with small and big changes until it is just right. For her it is each word, each line, each space. We work very similarly. Layers and layers of life go into each piece. Stubborn persistence. My stubborn muse.

Myself: I heard someone say on the radio yesterday, in a program about letting go, “I have survived myself.” The drive to create art doesn’t often come from ease. It comes from a passion to create something valuable from what is not easy. Being alive, navigating life, challenges.

Ultimately, for me, it is the joy I find when what I create talks, sings, breathes. Then my muse and I want more.


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