The Art Of Meaning: The Elusive Why

I sit here on the deck overlooking my backyard trying to figure out why I should draw. Not what, but why.

I look at the tree by my studio and think, “yes, I could take the time to draw out all the values to represent the object soundly, but”, I ask myself, “why do it”. I know I can do it–I see in my mind’s eye the end result–but it seems pointless.

Tree by MTMcClanahan

This is my struggle nowadays–where to go with my work. “I’m no designer” I think, “I’m a painter, a realist probably”, but I feel I want something more, more nuance maybe. Do I try to abstract things, do I try to distort?”

What slips mentally from my grasp is meaning, purpose, the “why”. Is it depression that wipes away my aim or is it something else? Is there a calling I fail to heed, a voice I have yet to find?

I know, I know, I know, that the only way to find “it” is to work. The way to meaning is by process–doing over and over again.

And deep down I think that the meaning will never be precise, it will always be developing, will always be in motion.

The key to producing is in the realization that what I am doing is important, has meaning, before I even know what that meaning is.

MT McClanahan

An artist and perpetual thinker, MT McClanahan finds inspiration through connecting ideas across a broad range of topics. He especially enjoys philosophy and how art and life interconnect. He is the founder of TPT and his paintings can be seen at

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2 Responses

  1. ‘Meaning’ is only meaningful to the person creating or ‘receiving’. A painter should never look for meaning as it will elude him/her. A bit like happiness. Happiness will find you, but not if you go looking for it. Looking for meaning before actually creating could easily take away the joy of painting as it may unwittingly force you into a corner where your natural artistic instinct would not lead. The real joy is when it just ‘happens’.

    • I could read your response over and over Marcia, thank you. Meaning is a result of the work, not the other way round, I think you are saying. And this is the conclusion I come to. Maybe I confuse “meaning” with “intent”. Or maybe I confuse it with “purpose”.

      And on “joy”, I can relate, I think I push too hard sometimes, looking for perfection or what have you.

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