Everything & Nothing

Or: Why Make Art?

Posted March 26, 2019 by Kerry McFall

After I finish a painting like this, I set it on the piano music rack, and go across the small room to sit on the couch, and just look.  And look away.  And look back.

pink rhododendron blooms

“OSU Rhododendron”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

It makes me happy to see a finished painting or drawing.  That is enough, to smile and be happy as I look.  Yes, I learn something with each one.  Perhaps that leaf should have been angled a bit more.  The border needs work.  Or not.  I walk past it the next morning, and smile again.

But there is more to the looking than fleeting happiness.  There is Everything.  And there is Nothing.

I look at the background, the greens and yellows, the darkness and light and shapes and lines that fade into each other, the suggestions of leaves behind the shining blooms, of other stems and plants behind the rhododendron, of the building behind the plants, of the university behind the building, the town, the mountain range, the ocean, the universe.  I know all of that is back there, in the background.  Everything.

I look at the blossom, the pinks and purples and reflected light, the stamens and anthers, the net of veins and arteries and chlorophyll, the life juices, the splashes, the water, the waves, flowing to the endless sea.  It is there in the foreground, all of that.  Everything.  It is right to be on the music stand, this painting, my painting.  It represents to me the music of this day, the tunes behind all those brush strokes and drips and washes.

And yet I know it is merely pigment on paper, paper made of chewed remnants of dead trees, pigments extracted from rocks and soils and brushed on with bits of fur from dead animals, a crude compilation of marks shaped by my hand as I endeavor to make sense out of the world around me.  The world behind and beneath and around my marks is filled with voices that shout about physics I cannot grasp and politics I cannot stomach, wounds I cannot heal and pain I cannot divert, and how can I deceive myself that my simple marks begin to touch the harshness of that reality?  I know the painting will become as nothing the moment I turn to the next page of the sketchbook, forgotten, out of sight and out of mind… Nothing.  Until.  Until in a few weeks or months or years I go through the book again, page by page, remembering.  Looking.  Touching.  And once again there is happiness.  There is Everything.  And the page turns yet again, and there it is again, memory, happiness.  Everything.

And that, I think, is why we humans make art.  Mostly Everything.

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