An Expression of Gratitude

“It’s a matter of relative indifference to me whether I live a long or a short time. Moreover, I’m not competent to manage myself in physical matters the way a doctor can in this respect. So I carry on as one unknowing but who knows this one thing — ‘I must finish a particular work within a few years’ — I needn’t rush myself, for that does no good — but I must carry on working in calm and serenity, as regularly and concentratedly as possible, as succinctly as possible. I’m concerned with the world only in that I have a certain obligation and duty, as it were — because I’ve walked the earth for 30 years — to leave a certain souvenir in the form of drawings or paintings in gratitude. Not done to please some movement or other, but in which an honest human feeling is expressed. Thus this work is the goal…”

Vincent van Gogh, 1883 (letter to brother Theo)

This passage touched me on so many levels when I first read it on Austin Kleon’s blog.

The urgency and priority of consistent, non-rushed, focused creative work. For so long, I put off making the art and images that float thru my head constantly. I gave my time and talent to the pressing needs of creating an existence, starting a string of businesses over the last 20 years, trying to add creative elements to commercial work. But always have a nagging feeling of restlessness. Telling myself, “Once I make X per month, I can give myself permission to do the work I want to do.”

The pandemic changed me. When my business was annihilated with no clear way to make it work, I decided to permit myself to do the work I’d been putting off. To do the scary stuff, creating the things in my head with clay, ink, and paint.

It was a freeing resignation; I had nothing more to lose. I had an urgency; people were dying by the thousands, the air I breathed may have the contagion, and I will regret not having tried making my art.

Van Gogh frames this urgency to create as an obligation, a debt owed for your existence. You are here occupying space, drinking, breathing, and killing things to sustain your life – you owe Earth a souvenir of your time here. “Paintings and drawings in gratitude.” Capture an honest human feeling and make it immortal thru art.

My mother died when I was 6-months old. I know her only thru the stories and paintings she left. She speaks to me thru each stroke – I feel her insecurities, ambitions, and love expressed on the canvas. I’m so grateful for her leaving her art for me, and now I’m doing my part to leave the Earth my creations.

I don’t create to fill a commercial need – my obligation is to a greater need. So I shed my ego and resigned to the clay. I’m here to listen and shape it into what it wants to be. I’m making souvenirs in gratitude.