Article ‘Why Do I Paint? Cezanne – that’s why’

Why Do I Paint? Cezanne – that’s why

This is the question which I often ask myself. It’s not that I have dedicated my life to painting or art. I have had to hold down jobs, most of which I have not liked. There have been long periods when I haven’t picked up a pencil, let alone a brush.
Some people went to art college, got a degree, forged a career which seems to have had a defined course throughout. That wasn’t my experience. Yes, I went to art college for around a year, but I didn’t like it. I tried to get on to degree courses but such work I had produced was not impressive, I have to admit. Yet, periodically, I knew I wanted to paint. Even as a child, I knew painting or art or writing poems were a part of my make-up, however strange that make-up was.
However, another growing realisation was that I was essentially a loner. Yes, I am married, have a son, but despite all that, aren’t we still alone? The greatest struggle is with ourselves.
Perhaps painting cannot be taught. Looking back, I don’t feel I picked up anything useful from all those years learning about how to paint or draw. They can teach you about techniques, styles, movements, the lives of great painters. Nevertheless, I have always found the latter the most interesting and inspiring.
The great southern French painter Cezanne was always a firm favourite of mine. I remember reading a biography of him when I was doing A-level art. It fascinated me, his character, his mentality, which despite our very differing backgrounds, seemed oddly familiar. I was also intrigued by his friendship with the French writer Emile Zola and their eventual estrangement.
Cezanne, like me, often felt isolated, something which does afflict creatives. Looking at his work from its dark, tentative beginnings, you can see a man struggling with himself, his father, his friends, his contemporaries, seemingly the whole world (although it has to be said that perhaps Van Gogh’s life is the most extreme example of this). For me, it was Cezanne’s life which encapsulated my own artistic experience. We are all alone, all of us, whatever we do, but the creative person, whether he paints or writes, feels this most deeply. It’s almost as if you turn in on yourself — and what I see isn’t always very pretty. Too much self-examination, I have heard it said, is not good for us. For me, the act of creation is the happiest and also the most depressing place to be, where you stare yourself directly in the face, which is sometimes good, sometimes bad. No doubt there are creative people out there who do find it easy to socialise, who are fun to be with, who can interact successfully. Despite my growing interest in the social media environment, which is often engaging and helpful, I am not one of these people. It is a realisation which comes to me time and time again. A truth about facing the fact of who I am.
So, it is only in the last few years, in my middle-age, where I have really taken up the brush with any gusto, or confidence. Yet the doubts persist. Memories of parents saying you can’t earn a living from painting or writing. And of course, their words were true. Then there’s the look in people’s faces when you tell them what you do, or what you intend to do. At such times, like now, I see a picture of myself, alone. It is an image that I have grown accustomed to, yet even after all this time, I am never comfortable with it.
I would never compare myself to any great painter in terms of ability. I can only stand back and admire Cezanne, Monet or Turner. Yet I can identify intimately with their interior struggles.

© article and image copyright dfbarker 2012



  1. The Background Story · January 20, 2012

    Beautifully painted! I love how your paintings are so soft and dreamy, almost ethereal. 🙂


  2. Erin · January 20, 2012

    Much of your post mirrors my own experiences, including being married with one son yet still alone in creative pursuits and attending formal art study at university for one year. I think being an artist is one of the bravest things one can be as we must draw forth from our own souls in spite of validation or encouragement from others — whether it be abundance of, or lack of, validation or encouragement from others, it subtlely changes our work. People most love the work I’ve done straight from the heart, in solitude, uncensored, unedited, unadulterated. They tell me there’s something intangible about it, something they can’t name. My other work is fine, but nothing beats the purity of work done completely out of solitary Flow states. It is a creative solitutude I embrace and choose. Cezanne was amazing.


  3. Ina · January 20, 2012

    Hi David,

    I was moved by this article and I agree, yes it is true we are all alone at some point. I am not a good socialiser too, even on the internet I lack a lot of skills, and I also find that too much digging in my mind doesn’t make me feel better 🙂 We have to accept that we are the way we are and that we have problems feeling part of a group. I suppose that means we are not alone after all.

    I always wrote (and made drawings but my drawings are private lol, not that good) and I think every person should be allowed to do so and not be frustrated. I was also told I would never make money writing but I do. It makes no difference in the great satisfaction of making something, sold or not sold.

    You are the prove education comes from all kind of places, not just school. If you look how Cezanne painted, you learn, if you try out stuff, you learn. And you know what is art and what is not.

    This painting again is so stunning 🙂 The children, the colours. Love it!



  4. journeyintopoetry · January 20, 2012

    David, Thank you for sharing these innermost thoughts with us. It is not an easy thing to do I feel.

    I can relate so much to the sentiments in this piece. Although I have been described by many as “a bubbly person”, it has often been a mask I have worn to compensate for feelings of inferiority.

    And you are so right when you say we are all alone ultimately. That is a thought which often occupies much space in my head. In fact, these feelings of “aloneness” were contributors to my eventual alcoholism. (I will be 10 years without a drink tomorrow). My recovery within AA is enabling me to change some of the things about myself I wasn’t happy with and to become more content with who I am. It is a slow process but a very enlightening one and I am enjoying the journey.

    I cannot imagine any of your artwork being unimpressive. I think it is beautiful and the accompanying painting here is no exception. I know we are all really alone, that is a fact, but even being on here makes me feel a little more connected with kindred spirits or like-minded people and I thoroughly enjoy your company.

    Keep painting and keep writing! You are much appreciated.



  5. df barker · January 20, 2012

    I am very grateful to you Ina! Yes, you are right – we are what we are, our task is to accept that, make the most of it. Thank you.


  6. df barker · January 20, 2012

    Christine, thank you! Funnily enough, I thought about you when I was writing this, your recent experiences. As ever, no sooner have I written something like this, you find that we all have our problems and many of them are much greater than my own ‘problems’.
    Christine, thanks so much for taking the time to look and respond to this. I really am grateful and all the best to you.


  7. Eve Redwater · January 20, 2012

    Cezanne’s work is stunning. I adore his style, but, Van Gogh will always be my absolute favourite. I was fortunate enough to see Gogh’s actual painting “Sunflowers” while visiting London. I remember standing in front of it, surrounded by so many people. I just stared at it, in awe. It was like meeting a celebrity. I was in front of the material object created by one of my artistic idols – it was almost surreal. I’ll never forget how it made me feel.

    It’s only recently that I’ve stricken up the courage to write again, and poetry is something I never thought I’d become so involved with. There have been times recently when I feel utterly incompetent, especially in regards to my skills as a writer. It’s that “unknown”, you know? That absolute uneasiness you can feel sometimes. (I suppose my dissertation research into Existentialism and Nihilism doesn’t help!) But still, the pleasure of writing or drawing far outweighs the negative for me; sometimes though, it’s just so hard to pin down the roots of anxiety. I think the Japanese term 「不安」- “fuan” – sums my mentality up perfectly!

    Thank you for this, David. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. 🙂


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  9. df barker · January 20, 2012

    Eve, thank you for reading and commenting once again. Yes, I do know what you mean about Van Gogh. I was lucky enough to visit the Reijksmuseum in Amsterdam a few years ago and was also stunned by VG’s work. And poetry, yes, is such a subjective genre. Why do we want others to see it? Thoughts to share? I don’t know. Either way, thanks once again.


  10. df barker · January 20, 2012

    Solitary flow states – yes, that’s it, I quite agree, that’s a great phrase. Yet, when you listen to critics who reject poems (and yes I’ve had few too!) they say the poems need more work, or need editing! Strange, isn’t it? They never say ‘we just don’t like it’. Perhaps they should. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time comment, I appreciate it very much.


  11. timruane24 · January 20, 2012

    really nice.


  12. rangewriter · January 20, 2012

    The solitary artist. Yes, it makes sense. If art must come from deep within, we can only travel to that space in solitude. Other people, no matter how much we love them or they love us, serve as a filter that prevents us from going deep inside. And really, I think it is only the bravest who are willing to dig deeply into themselves. No wonder so many of the best artists from the past and the present are tormented.

    I am no artist, yet I crave solitude. It’s like an unquenchable hunger for me. Very difficult for my partner to comprehend. He thinks I can be alone while he is in the house. I can not.

    Oddly enough, when I do come out of my cave, I socialize quite well. I’ve had to work very hard at that because I’m shy by nature….I find that nearly everyone professes to be shy. There is a constant push/pull balancing act going on in my life….social vs. solitary.


  13. Soma Mukherjee · January 20, 2012

    what a beautiful painting as for the article its true we all are alone in the crowd and its in these valley’s we find ourselves.I believe if we were all satisfied with everything we had we wouldnt have accomplished what we have today..somewhere in the loneliness lies a portal to self discovery and those who find themselves there and try out which is not ‘normal” reach a path written just for them.


  14. Four Blue Hills · January 20, 2012

    Your painting is beautiful.


  15. claudia · January 20, 2012

    think we all have these struggles from time to time..some people more, some people not so much – but there is a certain loneliness when you write or paint, i agree and artists tend to be very sensitive creatures and that’s what makes them also so sensitive for the beauty, makes them able to stand back and take a deeper look.. and we need both, people who stand in the middle of the crowd and others that stand on the edge of the shadow and just watch and write and paint..


  16. ariadnesdaughter · January 20, 2012

    I can relate to what you’ve written and this morning I don’t feel so alone being alone. Thank you! Your paintings are breathtaking! I am stumbling along trying to express myself through painting and poetry. I’m learning that the more I worry about the end result, the less I am able to bring out of myself. I’m learning to have fun with it and share my work with others even if I don’t think it’s any good. It’s not up to me to decide what anyone will think of my “art”. I can only express myself and offer it to others. The rest is up to them.
    I’m looking forward to reading your earlier posts and poetry and seeing more of your beautiful paintings. You are wonderfully inspiring!
    By the way, I’m going to begin to explore the life and work of Cezanne!


  17. Ina · January 20, 2012

    You have been nominated on the poetry from the sea blog btw 🙂


  18. df barker · January 20, 2012

    Thank you for your comments, I very much appreciate them.


  19. df barker · January 20, 2012

    Soma, your words are very wise, as usual! Many thanks for your comments.


  20. df barker · January 20, 2012

    Yes, thank you Claudia. You are indeed very perceptive, I’m grateful for your comments. Thank you.


  21. df barker · January 20, 2012

    Hi! You are very wise, and I look forward to seeing your work, too. Yes, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading about Cezanne. Thank you very much!


  22. df barker · January 20, 2012

    You are so kind – thank you!


  23. marina kanavaki · January 20, 2012

    I think that we are “taught” to believe that loneliness is bad or unpleasant. Not true. If we’d all spent enough time looking in rather than looking out, we’d be much much better people! So take this as a blessing when it happens. As for college etc, I’ve spent quite a few years “studying” art and music and still feel self taught! In fact I don’t remember any of it, maybe a few wise words, but that’s it! Follow your heart and your dream and you can’t go wrong, and this is obvious from your work, both painting & writing!


  24. Fergiemoto · January 20, 2012

    You have your own talent which is something to be proud of. I like the softness of your paintings and the accompanying creative poetry. I can’t earn a living with my art attempts, nor have I tried, but it is fun and healing for me. It sustains me in a different way and I have my own style.


  25. ariadnesdaughter · January 20, 2012

    I was just looking through the dark and dusty recesses of my bookshelves and came across a book that I forgot I had – Letters on Cezanne by (one of my favorite poets) Rainer Maria Rilke! I’ve been reading about the connections between art and poetry a lot lately and now this falls into my hands! (I love when that happens) I think now is a good time to read this.


  26. df barker · January 20, 2012

    Excellent! I think you are right. Thank you.


  27. Meanderer · January 20, 2012

    I studied Cezanne as part of an Arts and Humanities course a couple of years back and fell in love with his work and also admired him as a person. The problem is that aloneness – or self-containment – is often mistaken for loneliness and introversion is often mistaken for shyness.


  28. James Brandon O'Shea · January 20, 2012

    It is very true, that isolation, and it’s something you can’t really explain to someone who doesn’t live that way – and those people always feel owed the explanation. I can say without a doubt that your thoughtful, personal, well-crafted poetry is a gift. Even in the mundane, it is relatable, and is like a good conversation. One of my favorite musicians said in an interview, when someone compared he and his band to one of the greatest bands of all time that ‘comparison is a plague’. I agree. It’s too easy to get caught up in what’s great and what isn’t, when it’s a completely subjective thing and relies on too many elements outside of ourselves to put stock in. Maybe there’s some point in the road where one’s work feels adequate. If I figure anything out, I’ll be sure to pass it along. Thanks for your writing.


  29. Kandace Heimer · January 20, 2012

    “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants” (Sir Isaac Newton) . . . don’t beat yourself up. Loads of people are loners. I do not know you but your poetry and paintings are phenomenal. Be appreciate of what talent you have and what your life experiences have taught you.


  30. df barker · January 20, 2012

    Thank you Kandace – I appreciate your comments.


  31. df barker · January 20, 2012

    And thank you James, you are very perceptive and I am very grateful for your comments.


  32. granbee · January 20, 2012

    No better reason to paint than Cezanne! You have been so helpful to us writers and artists out here with your opening up here today about your inner struggles, hopes, dreams, ponderings, self-questionings. Your art and your writing light up a lot of pathways for many more people than you can know, I am sure. Thank you,dear D.F.


  33. Betty Hayes Albright · January 20, 2012

    David, it appears your article has resonated with a lot of us – including me! I can relate to so much of what you said and the difficulties of being an artist or writer (or any truly creative person). Thankfully we all find each other here – as it takes another poet (artist, etc.) to really understand us! Thank you for sharing this with us.


  34. Dorcas · January 21, 2012

    Wow, David! I started blogging this month. I had been looking at sites for a while and knew it would be a way of connecting to a community of creative individuals. Your poetry and art work are beautiful. Your writing is from the heart and compelling, as the comments above illustrate so well.

    Maybe our middle-age years are the time of life where we have lived enough to be reflective. I applaud your decision to take up the brush and to write. You are talented at both.

    I, too, am an artist, newly born. Funny enough, I thought only other people were creative. Now I understand that the spirit within me is part of a creative universe, so of course, all of us are creative in one way or another. Making art or writing is a beautiful form of meditation, and I will enjoy watching and reading your creative spirit. Thanks for the inspiration.


  35. df barker · January 21, 2012

    Thank you so much! I’m grateful to you for taking the time to look and comment on my site. I like the picture of the buddha you’ve got. I used to be involved with it in the 90s and we still occasionally visit a monastery.


  36. Lindy Lee · January 23, 2012

    Cézanne is a very good reason…


  37. willofheart · January 23, 2012

    I studied different artist in my humanities and this was my link out for my admiration in arts, your work of art is truly awesome and I may say incomparable as well as every pieces you shared from each post …


  38. df barker · January 23, 2012

    Thank you so much!


  39. SimpleP · January 23, 2012

    It is a challenge for creative people to find their place. I suppose that’s a sign of originality. I’d rather be unique. Thank you for sharing your talent. Wonderful post.


  40. df barker · January 23, 2012

    …and I agree, thank you so much for your comments!


  41. Thomas Davis · February 8, 2012

    David, reading this moved me, although it has taken awhile for me to comment. Our lives sound very different. I am the Dean of a Navajo college in New Mexico, and my days are filled with students, faculty, community members, and the dreams of those who have lived with generational poverty so long that envisioning a middle class lifestyle is impossible. I’m seldom alone and have very little time during the normal day to feel lonely.
    Still, I feel some of the same things you do. You are obviously deeply creative. You have walked the path you have walked and faced inside and learned to deal with what you have seen. You have stripped yourself of the illusions of youth.
    I am older than you are, but have walked some of those same paths. When I was young I was sure I was going to be a famous writer, but way leads on to way, paraphrasing Robert Frost, and I became an educator in unusual places, helping to build the tribal college movement in this country and the indigenous higher education movement worldwide. I have never really realized the dreams of my youth even though my passion for writing poetry today is as strong as it was when I was too young to know any better.
    The point is that you are a poet and an artist–in the way of Cezanne or not, and your art touches people–thousands of people. In your aloneness you are not alone, but celebrated. I don’t suspect that your art will whirl you around and whiz you through a black hole and set off the birth of suns, but it is important, deeply important. I enjoy your work and so do a lot of other people.
    Finding out who you are and putting that out in the universe through your art is the most important thing any of us can do in our lives. I thank you for the path you walk and the words and images that come from walking that path. You are an artist and a poet–and that means, everything.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Heather Whitley Gibson · February 8, 2012

    This I can absolutely relate to. I wrote my first graduate paper on Cezanne and trees. I was the only Fine Arts major (undergraduate) in the Art History graduate program.There were only 11 of us. I had that disadvantage, dyslexia, and I doubt anyone in the program the year I went threw was less than “genius” level.I have know idea why I got the idea of writing paper’s at a graduate level-but–I delved into that paper wildly. Doing a 50 minute presentation on trees? Mr.C will be engrained forever. I still prefer to paint on square because of how he divided his canvas up-into 4 sections. ” It happened again” is a song-poem- I wrote-Ronnie asked me to write a love song-a 15 minute write- and it turned into a song about painting. –the song did o.k– we still need to re-do it but check out if you have a chance


  43. dfb · February 8, 2012

    Heather, thank you so much! Yes, Cezanne, is a real inspiration, along with Monet. I think my paintings these days are more like the latter, suits ‘my style’, but I love Cezanne the most. Yes, I will have a look at that song, it sounds fascinating. I love music too, not in a ‘professional’ sense, but messing around with guitars and recording etc. Thank you once again, I am grateful.


  44. Heather Whitley Gibson · February 10, 2012

    Thanks for your response. Actually that song is special to me and after writing to you- we stayed up-what am I talking about it’s 6:39 and we have not even started singing yet. I just wrote another song. We have quite a growing collection-the guitar-I bought- the epiphone hollow body for him (I have legal rights lol) -it’s beautiful-we have a great pawn shop and I spotted it (At the time I didn’t know that much but have good instincts)-and bought it-he is in love with it. Right now my hands are still re-habing-so I got a Takamine and I bought a baby Taylor-it sounds great.And a great Peavy (tiger) bass. I am learning all this stuff at one time. I got so inspired by writing here… yesterday? So I asked him if we could re-write that song. I jotted down a weird 145 -6- mix-It’s a strange E-/ I love it! it slower-thanks for listening-see inspiration! It’s exiciting but trying to write lyrics,learning to play, and sing,and learning recording is sort of overwhelming-thank god for my art experience.I am playing but he is the genius guitar and bass player. My art work got sort of “formal-abstract”-I asked my husband about sound-color relations. I actually charted it out-yes I looked crazy-but it worked major minor & 7th-can be dark-intense hues-or pretty-light purple-you should try spoken word or have you? on sound click-b-stitch and clowns went to to the top 5! blew me away.write off the cuff-recorded once. your stuff is soooo good. have you tried it? I would assume so but I do know how I am shyness and we are both the type of people who can be social but stay home anyway. it’s friday- morning. TCTG.


  45. dfb · February 10, 2012

    Hi Heather! Well, you/he certainly have a great life and a great collection there! As I said, I sold my epiphone a couple of years ago but I still have a Strat, which is lovely, of course. Other guitars, I have an old black folk guitar which gets played the most, a 70s Harmony, which is in need of renovation! I have Gordon Smith electric (English made, in Manchester), which is basically a Les Paul junior shape but with Maple fretboard and a brass nut! Great guitar. Has humbucker at bridge (with coil split) and single coil at neck. It sounds more like telecaster! But hey! Also have beautifully made Washburn acoustic – great tone.
    Recording? I’ve tried a lot over the years but the only stuff I’ve ‘put out’ so to speak lately, is ‘The Painter’ on the blog. I’m ok writing songs and lyrics but I’m more of a picker and rhythm man than a lead man – your husband is great on lead! And my voice, well, I can just about stay in tune, maybe, but I don’t like the sound of it. An English accent comes through too much! Ah well, maybe I should put on a north American accent, Elton John and other limeys have got away with it for years, brilliantly.
    You sound really involved in all your creativity – I will keep looking at mp3 stuff and blog. Well done and thank you once again. All best wishes, David.


  46. barkinginthedark · February 11, 2012

    commendable. and you have a wonderful talent. continue…


  47. dfb · February 11, 2012

    I thank you! I’m grateful.


  48. Léa · May 10

    Ah, Cézanne. In 2006, I visited France for the first time and Aix-en-Provence was on my list of places to visit. Atelier Cézanne was a must. It was much more than I had hoped for having already been to Monet’s gardens and other such places. Monet’s studio had been turned into a gift shop and the spell was broken. The gardens still inspire. However, Atelier Cézanne weaves a magical spell and I was quickly enchanted. It was a hundred years after his death and you could still feel his presence. Every time I have a visitor, it is on our list of places to go. If you haven’t been there, I hope you will consider it. I also enjoy little day trips to Figueres, Spain the home of Dali. From my house it is about an hour and a half and one is rewarded with two museums of the master. This is such a rich environment for an artist or even one who simply appreciates art. For me, I am a bit of a closet painter. I didn’t study art or poetry but have been writing poetry longer than I care to remember. Alas, my degrees are in Psychology which can be an interesting perspective for viewing art. Léa

    Liked by 1 person

  49. Leo Tanner · May 10

    Thank you. Yes Cezanne has been my ‘favourite’ since school. Once day I shall go there and I’m sure that the light of the south will inspire like it did for Cezanne and Van Gogh – here’s hoping! I don’t paint much these days but I will return to it one day. Thanks for the lovely comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  50. Léa · May 10

    My pleasure and I hope you enjoy the link I sent. I’ve no doubt you will love Provence.

    Liked by 1 person

  51. Leo Tanner · May 10

    Yes, thank you so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  52. inaloveworld · May 30

    We have not been encouraged to follow our desires especially when they were related to art. We have been taught that we cannot survive without a 9 to 5 job, or making art. In that way people get frustrated and live in negativity, for they cannot express themselves. In my opinion, art is a way of expressing freely of who you really are. Neither parents not other people can feel what and how we do, for each of us is unique. Your work is stunning! Thank you for sharing beauty, color and wisdom!


  53. Leofwine Tanner · May 30

    Thank you! Even though I have studied astrology for many years, sometimes assessing oneself is the hardest thing to do. You are so kind, I thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  54. inaloveworld · May 30

    You are more than welcome!


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