Monday, March 29, 2010

Book Thoughts: Churchill on Painting

Note: I decided recently to comment on things I've noted in books over the years. I'm calling these Book Thoughts. This is the fourth post.

I recently read a tiny book (I suspect it was originally just an article) by Winston Churchill called, Painting as a Pastime, because I'm an amateur painter and wondered what this great man had to say about my hobby.

What impressed me was the whole theme of the article. It was not simply that you need some time off with a good, engaging hobby (though it did say that), but that you really don't need to be any good at it. It can, in Churchill's words, simply be a "pastime."

Coming from anybody else I would regard that with deep suspicion. I might think he was advocating being halfhearted and sloppy, but coming from a man who was anything but that, who was one of the greatest and most productive men of the twentieth century, a master statesman, master speaker, master author, and anything but halfhearted, I have to take it seriously.

So here is the quote, in which he is advising older people who are thinking of taking up his hobby of painting:

There really is no time for the deliberate approach. Two years of drawing-lessons, three years of copying woodcuts, five years of plaster casts -- these are for the young. They have enough to bear. And this thorough grounding is for those who, hearing the call in the morning of their days, are able to make painting their paramount lifelong vocation. The truth and beauty of line and form which by the slightest touch or twist of the brush a real artist imparts to every feature of his design must be founded on long, hard, persevering apprenticeship and a practice so habitual that it has become instinctive. We must not be too ambitious. We cannot aspire to masterpieces. We may content ourselves with a joy ride in a paint-box. And for this Audacity is the only ticket.

"A joy ride in a paint box." I love that phrase. And his recommendation? Audacity! Don't be intimidated by that blank canvas. Just put a bold splash of color right on its face!

So if a man like Winston Churchill occasionally needed to switch his mind to an engaging and peaceful hobby, knowing full well that he'd never be great at it, maybe we should consider it as well. Not that we shouldn't strive to be excellent in some areas, but why not be happily mediocre at other things?

I have a friend who, if I suggest he try something, always says, "Oh, I'd never be any good at that."

Drives. Me. Up. The. Wall!

So WHAT if you're no good at it. If you enjoy it and it refreshes your mind and spirit, isn't that enough?

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