There are a lot of reasons I love the movie La La Land. The visuals are beautiful. The music is lovely. The story is charming, and the performances are fantastic. But I was really impressed by the depiction of a creative life and the sincerity of the artistic pursuit shown.
It can be hard to figure out what is most important in one's art as the years go by. I used to feel pressure to have a thesis about my paintings that would make them more relevant to the art world, and I worried that I should push myself in that direction. My work seemed unimportant because it was only about my own interests and experiences. But after 22 years of painting, I've come to realize that my art should primarily be about my interests. My paintings are an extension of me and I can be proud of each of them for different reasons.
Once in a while in a series of paintings I might explore a broad idea like childhood, or family life, or life in a working harbor. But often I'm just struck by something visual and want to make a painting to describe my interest. Some of the plein air work is done incredibly quickly, but those paintings are the ones that can surprise me with a lively brushstroke or color interaction that I wasn't expecting. These paintings are about capturing a fleeting effect of light, color, or atmosphere. The larger studio landscapes let me dig into more subtle color surprises. With two little kids at home I really enjoy painting scenes that describe how kids play and interact, while also finding visual excitement in the light and color of these paintings. Some of my still life paintings are about exciting color and pattern. Others are about capturing interrupted moments, like a craft project with the kids, or a game night, or a lazy Sunday morning.
The common thread in all of these paintings is me. My paintings are about me and my varied interests. The paintings are about my interest in capturing light, harmonizing color, being a parent, and looking for moments of beauty as I experience the world. I might not be able to sum that up in an artist's statement, and I know my work will be relevant to some and not important to others. That's ok with me. My paintings need to be honest to my own interest. Whether my interests are wide ranging or narrow and shortsighted, all I can ask is that my paintings describe that interest in a more sincere and interesting way than any artist's statement does.
As I think about La La Land, I'm struck by how single minded the main characters are with their art. I love the depiction of an artist's life; the struggle with how to make money in a creative pursuit, how to balance a personal relationship with an obsession with art, trying to describe your own excitement for jazz/dance/acting/painting to someone else, how to handle both success and failure. An underlying theme of the whole movie is following your art. The movie is about creative people, but is also a lovely expression in itself. It's a gentle reminder to keep plugging away and looking for beauty and surprise. It's a reminder that romance and nostalgia and honesty are not bad words, but fine pursuits. It also reminds me that it's ok to be selfish in some parts of my life, particularly my art.