Painting as a Pastime, by Winston Churchill

winston churchill - painting as a pastime - meg biram

I randomly caught Jay Leno when George W. Bush was on (see Part I and Part II). Personally I think Bush is hilarious in general. Regardless of politics, as a person he seems fun to hang out with. But when he started talking about painting my ears perked up. When Bush said, “There’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body,” I laughed out loud, I mean come on, that is hysterical.

Bush said he read Winston Churchill’s essay Painting as a Pastime and was inspired to paint. What could be in that essay that moved a previous President of the United States to want to use his free time to paint!?! I had to know. So I immediately ordered the book and read it about as quickly as I could get it out of the package.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the book (excerpts in italics):

A gifted American psychologist has said, ‘Worry is a spasm of the emotion; the mind catches hold of something and will not let it go.’

Being a bit of a worrier, this quote stood out to me.

To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies, and they must all be real.

Safe as in mentally safe? I’m not sure, but the ‘real’ part I thought was interesting, especially in today’s online world. This also made me think — what are my 2-3 hobbies? Is yoga a hobby? What exactly is the definition of hobby? So I looked it up to be sure — a hobby is an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure. I do yoga for many reasons — pleasure is one, but health and fitness are the main reasons. I’d also love to say that painting is my hobby, but I go through cycles of having time (or making time rather) to do it. In the small time I allow myself for leisure, it usually involves reading or hanging out with friends in some capacity. I need to get serious about my hobbies.

It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do.

Life is short — we should try to enjoy as much of it as possible.

It may well be that those whose work is their pleasure are those who most need the means of banishing it at intervals from their minds.

Wow can I relate to this. I need to get out of my own head. I know my work will be better when I make time to do things that completely take my brain somewhere else more often.

The most common form of diversion is reading.
Nothing makes a man more reverent than a library.

Well I’ve got that one down. I read at least a few chapters from a book almost every day.

It is a great pity to read a book too soon in life.
I feel this way about some books I read in high school and college — they need to be reread.

Young people should be careful in their reading, as old people in eating their food. They should not eat too much. They should chew it well.

Good advice, and humorous.

Since change is an essential element in diversion of all kinds, it is naturally more restful and refreshing to read in a different language from that in which one’s ordinary daily work is done.
The process of reading for pleasure in another language rests the mental muscles; it enlivens the mind by a different sequence and emphasis of ideas.

Say wha? One hobby at a time here Winston.

The truth and beauty of a 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 is has become instinctive. We must not be too ambitious. We cannot aspire to masterpieces. We may not content ourselves with a joy ride in a paint-box. And for this Audacity is the only ticket.

You hear that Bush? You cannot aspire to Rembrandt.

One begins to see, for instance, that painting a picture is like fighting a battle; and trying to paint a picture is, I suppose, like trying to fight a battle. The principle is the same. It is the same kind of problem as unfolding a long, sustained, interlocked argument.

I think this heightened sense of observation of Nature is one of the chief delights that have come to me through trying to paint.

I expect that nothing will make one observe more quickly or more thoroughly than having to face the difficulty of representing the thing being observed.

Obviously, then, armed with a paint-box, one cannot be bored, one cannot be left at a loose end, one cannot ‘have several days on one’s hands.’ Good gracious! what there is to admire and how little time there is to see it in!

I love that Churchill says this because I am never bored. I can’t even comprehend people who can get to a state of being bored. There is just way to much to do, see, read, to ever be bored.

There is no better exercise for the would-be artist than to study and devour a picture, and then, without looking at it again, to attempt the next day to reproduce it. Nothing can more exactly measure the progress both of observation and memory.

Might have to try this.

Painting is complete as a distraction. I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind. Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen.

I’m currently at the point in my painting cycle where I haven’t painted for a while and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m taking some time to read a few books on creativity and then I’m hoping to start carving out some time to paint each week.

I think the important takeaway from this book is that everyone needs a brain escape. We need to completely focus on things other than our work, things we enjoy, to help us relax and grow. There are tons of articles around about how you need to give your brain time to absorb, think, wander — and I think Churchill is touching on the importance of immersing yourself in your hobbies. I know that when I’m in yoga, all I can think about is doing that pose, or maybe sweat dripping down into my eye, but no work or worries are in my head. It’s a wonderful brain escape for me. I think we all need to find those 2-3 hobbies that do this for us and make time for them to legitimately be a hobby — meaning you do them regularly in your leisure time.

What are your 2-3 hobbies? Did you identify with anything Churchill wrote?

See a painting Bush did for his daughter Jenna, and see more of George W. Bush’s paintings. Hey, I think he’s pretty good!


Photo by Meg Biram, Linen Windowpane Throw via Serena & Lily