art as action

Categories: art

When I was at art school, somewhere between reading Homer’s poetry of heroism and the tales self-sacrifice in Weary Dunlop’s War Diary, between watching Top Gun and military vehicles rumbing down our street in convoy, I decided that I wanted to be a man of action – and took myself off to the recruiting office. Art, I had decided, was about standing on the sidelines, observing and commenting on life, rather than being immersed in life itself. I recall someone cautioning me – something along the lines of ‘the man of action is only the servant of the man of thought’ – but I’d made my mind up. I threw away my art materials and signed up.

A few months later, I found myself by a river, painting in flimsy notebook with children’s watercolour paints. My memories wanted to be on the page. In the army I learned how to run, to shoot, to use a radio, and to make maps. I found myself in an illustrator’s office, decorating visitor’s books and making invitations. After the army, I taught drawing, and painted some commissions, but somehow, no matter how often I’d put a canvas on the easel real art, and consistent art, always eluded me.

What if art is action?

The purpose of man is in action, not thought. – Thomas Carlyle

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