I didn’t think about it much at first, and now I can’t stop wondering if I’ll ever really know the answer to it: My why.

Last weekend I was painting at a lovely New Orleans wedding when a little boy who couldn’t have been older than eight approached me. Decked out in a suit that was too big and probably not the wardrobe he would have chosen for himself, he asked, “What are you doing?” I’ve heard this question before– from flower girls, great uncles, the bride’s next door neighbor, the groom’s college friend. I know the drill. Prepare, to be wowed and awed, little boy, I thought.

“I’m making a painting of this party,” I answered him with a smile. The script usually goes like this–  his face lights up, eyebrows rise in wonder, and he says something like “you’re going to paint all of this?” to which I laugh a little and say “yep.

Want to know what he really said when I told him what I was doing?

“Why?”

I hadn’t been asked that mid-painting before, and a million thoughts rushed through my mind like a mis-matched lego bucket being dumped onto an otherwise clean floor.

Because they’re paying me to. Because this is my job. Because it’s flipping cool, man. Because I like to put lines and colors on surfaces that once had neither.

Because, at the end of the day, human beings, unlike any other animal on this earth, have this weird compulsion to represent their experiences and thereby make new ones. We want to make physical and permanent what is abstract and fleeting. We want to remember and to shape. We want to hold onto, with both hands, the ephemeral.

Don’t worry. I didn’t tell him all that. I think I went with “It’s just cool, bro.”

But all these thoughts, different shapes, sizes, and colors, continue to pour out of the lego bin. I’m running my hands across them, spreading them out so I can see what I’ve got to work with. I might try to build something– a tall and sturdy “why.”

So if you make art or buy art or own art or like art, WHY? What purpose does it serve in your life? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Pretty please.

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