Work And Understanding: Why We Are Here

Republished from Mar. 24, 2012

Once I was reading a very difficult book, struggling to get through it, and was asked by a close friend, “why put yourself through that.” I replied with what I thought was obvious, “because I want to understand.”

I remember when I was very young there was little stress while painting, I was so immersed in the process of rendering, and with illusionism.Sunflowers By A Window by MTMcclanahanThis has changed. I’ve become more critical now (I am a perfectionist it seems) and, possibly, my expectations, and the stakes, are higher. Moreover, I can see clearer the difference between what I want to accomplish and what may actually occur.

I sometimes envy the artist who has a seemingly calm temperament about his work. I’m more the “The Agony And The Ecstasy” type and words like “torturing” or “exhausting” aptly describe some of my painting sessions. I’ve never really understood the notion that painting is a relaxing endeavor.

…it’s only relaxing afterward.   Barbara Nechis

But, for some reason, I can still say that I enjoy it, especially because I feel I learn something every time I work. I find great joy in the learning through the working.

By default one’s abilities are improved with each painting session. As Robert Henri said,

“Use the ability you have, and use it, and use it, and make it develop itself.”

But, more importantly, one’s meager understanding of life seems somehow broadened through working.

It may sound melodramatic, and I can’t really explain it, but sincere work allows me to see beyond my mortality, at least that’s how I feel (by “sincere” work I mean work you are passionate about). Maybe the act of working, in some mysterious way, opens the mind and soul to the secrets of the universe. Maybe that’s why we’re here.

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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