Does every painting need to have a story?

Many beginner artists start painting because they enjoy the process. They enjoy the feeling of mixing and adding colours to canvas, the challenge of representing something in paint, of creating something from scratch and saying “I did this”. It’s for the love of it.

If that desire to create goes further and they begin to feel as though this is how they want to make a career, a whole other world of problems are opened up. When moving from the world of amateur into professional suddenly there is a whole new set of expectations put upon you. Suddenly you can’t just create something just because you want to, because people will begin to ask that one elusive question…why?

Collectors, critics and fans will begin to want to know why you are doing something, what is the deeper meaning behind it. What message are you trying to get across? What point are you making?

To begin with I really struggled with this. Even way back when I was completing a Diploma of Visual art (back in 2002-2004) I would be asked by my tutors “what are you trying to say with this piece”…my answer would be a shrug of the shoulders followed by “I dunno”.

I was never interested in creating a political argument with my art. I never had religious views that I felt needed to be expressed or a statement that I was trying to make. As a result I always felt inferior and as though my work wasn’t worthy of anything important because I wasn’t trying to make a point or send out a message. Everyone around me was creating artistic statements and deep hidden messages within their art about the environment, racism, social issues, feminism…the list goes on. There is of course nothing wrong with that, but I personally really struggled with it…because I didn’t have any. Even back then, all I wanted to do was make pretty paintings, but that never seemed to be enough.

So does every painting need to have a story?

It has taken a very long time for me to realize that the answer to that is…no. It is ok to create purely for the love of creating. It is ok to not have a deeper meaning behind each stroke of the brush. There is nothing at all wrong with painting JUST because you want to paint. Does that make my art shallow? Not at all!

The purpose of my art is not to make a statement, first and foremost I want my paintings to be seen as beautiful. I want the viewer to look at it and say “wow…that’s so pretty!”. I want to create a reaction within them that sees the piece for exactly what it is….a pretty picture. I want the colours to be pleasing to the eye, calming and attractive. I want the shapes and composition to remind the viewer of nature and tranquility. I want the details and textures to be noticed once the view comes closer and becomes engaged in the piece. I want them to be able to look into the layers of colour and pattern to see the work and process involved. I want them to WANT to have this hanging on their wall in their home and not have to explain the deeper meaning of it all to everyone that comes over.

In my opinion, creating something that is beautiful, peaceful and calming to look at is just as important as creating something that is challenging, thought provoking and has a strong message to put across. There is a space for both within the art world.

Now all this being said, some of my paintings do have more of a story to them than others but that story usually has more to do with what inspired the piece than a particular subconscious message I’m trying to make. For example if someone approaches me to create a painting based on a mountain view near their home, and I am to include the flock of pigeons that the neighbor releases each afternoon into the skyline…then obviously this piece now has a story connected to it.

Or if as I am creating a painting, the images that are coming forward remind me of a particular time or place or event then I can happily match up that piece with such story and give the painting more meaning. But at the same time I no longer feel the need to do this with ALL my paintings. Sometimes it is just what it is and nothing more. The piece was created spontaneously with little to no thought and it is now just a pretty picture.

What do you think? Do you have trouble finding meaning in your work? Or do you totally disagree with me and believe that if there is no meaning behind it then there is no point creating it?