Why Do You Create Art?


An American art student posed this question to Douglas MacDiarmid while researching a college assignment. His immediate response was short and to the point: “Nobody creates art. The word covers what happens to any deep need to try to share the splendour of a vision.”

Then, not wanting to shut down an opportunity to share wisdom on the strength of how ‘create’ is defined, the word-purist looked at the wider question of why he paints. This too, could be summed up quickly: ‘For communication. All art has some communicatory intent.”

Remorse of Byzance Sketch 2013
Douglas at work in his Montmartre studio 1993
Paris Rooftops 1971

True, but still far too meagre a response to provoke thought and discussion or excite the imagination. There is no generosity in throw-away lines. Drawing from observations made over the years on the subject, he opened the gates: 

“Art’s function is to give expression to life, and to learn to see as a result. I think I can safely say that you’ve never really looked at anything till you’ve tried to draw it. Indeed, art develops and changes as fast as life itself – it is an absolute mirror of life. Everything in everyday life, as far as my experience shows, is reflected in paint. Good art is full of life – and this means what’s good for you in this life. Painting has a basic philosophy blending risk with the search for self-knowledge…in which beauty is a side-product. One colour calls for another, so you have to listen to the call. Painting is for listening as much as anything. And in all of this, it seems to me that the world of paint is one of the rare instances of living justice. You get what you give. For me, the endless questioning of a theme is what provides the whole adventure. There is no end to it…”

Douglas never did hear what she made of his painting insights. They remain food for thought for all of us.

Douglas with ‘Ocean Bathers’ 1962
Sketches by Douglas MacDiarmid

To read more about Douglas MacDiarmid’s fascinating journey through life Buy your copy of Colours of a Life – the life and times of Douglas MacDiarmid by Anna Cahill (2018)

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