January Thoughts: Why I Make Art

By Pia De Girolamo

January is a transitional month of endings and beginnings. In art, the god Janus is depicted as having two faces, one looking ahead and one looking backwards. So it is fitting that in January people feel moved to take stock, review the old year, and make plans for the new. During this liminal time at the beginning of the month, I happened to be walking the dog when a memory about art emerged from a stream of thoughts. I remembered reading in a book* on aesthetics that art “intensifies the sense of immediate living” and by art, the author means everything from cave paintings, to tattoos, to pottery, jewelry, poetry, theater etc. *(Art as Experience by John Dewey—it’s a bear to get through, so don’t start reading it unless you really want some brain calisthenics). As one thought led to another, I started wondering about why art exists and why I make it, topics that I find useful and interesting to revisit from time to time.

Picasso said “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” While art can be escapist it can also lift a veil and remind us to see and experience reality, the good and the bad, which often gets lost in the fog of our thoughts and the busyness of our lives. When we put ourselves on auto pilot we forget to look, to feel, and to appreciate a tree, a place, a person, a landscape, a rock, a cup of coffee, a crumbling, graffitied building. It allows us to see with fresh eyes and with a “Beginner’s Mind.”

Why do I make art? Making art makes me an explorer of the world. It allows me to experience things twice-once in real life and once again in the studio. My inquisitiveness is engaged and I look at things more closely and experience more fully in order to get them down on paper or canvas.

Art takes me “out of my head” when a painting is clicking along without me having to think about it and I am in a state of flow. State of flow is like a form of meditation and often like a mini-vacation. At some point after the flow ceases though, the analytical brain takes over with its narrative of critique-does it work? is it balanced? is it interesting? Which is usually necessary to some degree to bring a painting to fruition. Even though this is the “rational” brain engaging it is a very interesting exercise because it poses questions and what ifs as in “what happens if I change this color, or this shape and so on and how does it affect the rest of the painting”? These questions lead to other questions and keeps me fascinated with the process of creating.

Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic says she writes solely because she likes to, she enjoys her creativity, and writing is fun! And really isn’t that the bottom line? I make art because I love making art! I am delighted by the process that takes me from a blank canvas to something completely new. Art making is of course frustrating at times and closing the gap between intention and execution is a tricky tightrope to walk, but the totality of the act of creation is fun and exciting, sometimes just because it is challenging and the outcome is not assured.

Art is a means of connection with other people. I especially love it when a viewer can tell me how and why my art moved them. It’s also interesting when a viewer sees a meaning or feeling that I did not consciously intend but subconsciously might be there. Then I deepen my understanding of the work as well as myself, and that may help me make the next painting. Even if the viewer’s interpretation is way off base, if it helps them make a connection with the work, the art has found a way to forge a personal connection.

In early spring an insistent impulse-something not rational-compels me to start cleaning out my pots and my vegetable patch and start getting ready for planting. This winter an impulse (the whispers of Janus?) compelled me to think generally about art and why I make it, which jumpstarted the desire to evaluate last year’s specific highs and lows in my art and then set goals. Essentially, I sketched the outlines of a year and I’ll be painting in the scene, figuring it all out along the way.

Pia De Girolamo is an accomplished painter living and working in the Greater Philadelphia area whose recent exhibitions featured large-scale paintings based on abstracted mountain landscapes, as well as a series evoking the urban landscapes of Rome and Italy. She has had thirteen solo exhibitions, most recently at the Museo Mastroianni, within the Musei di San Salvatore in Lauro in Rome and at the Cerulean Arts Gallery in Philadelphia. She has also shown extensively in group exhibitions regionally.  De Girolamo has a BA in Art History from Barnard College, Columbia University and an MD degree from the University of Rochester. She lectures on the relationship between art and medicine as well as the connections between art, nature, and health. Her awarded work has been acquired for collections by the Museo Mastroianni, Rome, PNC Bank, Pittsburgh, PA and Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia and has been highlighted in Hollywood feature films. For more information on De Girolamo’s work:

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