My Secret Love

My Secret Love

I have a secret love

A couple, actually, but I’ll tell you about how I discovered one of my secret loves in particular: painting. Looking back, I suppose the hints and suggestions were there but I either ignored or denied them; I wasn’t mature enough to understand or appreciate how I could be connected with my secret love.

What is a secret love? Something that you just love and that makes your heart sing without you really being able to explain why. It just does. A creative pursuit that fulfils your inner need to create beautiful or imaginative or amazing things. It’s either something you love and perhaps something you love to do. It could be both, most likely.

At university I studied photography and art. I am, for all intents and purposes, a formally trained artist. Back in the days before digital cameras, I might add, when it was all film. With post-editing in Photoshop, of course, I’m not that old! There’s something about a perfectly crafted photo, isn’t there? The forms, the negative space, the colours, the composition, the lighting. Magnificent. No wonder everyone wants to be a photographer and why every phone has a camera, right?

I tried to fool myself that I loved photography. I mean, I kinda do – no, let’s be honest again. I don’t. I find it exhausting and unexciting when I’m the one behind the lens. I remember the moment photography died for me and it was when I found out what instagram was. No joke. I can remember the moment when at an art exhibit one of the pieces was a collection of instagram photos and they were all great. I had studied for three long years to be a photographer and all it took was for one person to pick up a stupid phone and point and shoot. Bam. There’s your masterpiece.

OBVIOUSLY a very naive view on the matter. Those photos probably weren’t taken on the phone in the first place and were heavily edited, so there really was a lot of expertise that went into it. BUT the thing that I objected to was the watering down of the craft. Everyone could now do it. Everyone. Anyone can consider themselves to be ‘photographers’. Now, understand that we creatives have egos, very healthy ones, and the goal is to be able to offer the world some semblance of a truth that we see around us, something only we can do encapsulated in a created – thingy. Photo, painting, song, whatever. My love of photography therefore was a myth, because OF COURSE if I really really wanted it, I could still be the best darn photographer ever, to heck with all those instagram posts! But I didn’t have the love to drive me to that place and still don’t.

I had been hanging on to a dying relationship that when tested proved how weak it was and how it was poorly based on anything real. Photography had been a means to an end to get me to use my brain at university. It wasn’t that I gave up on something I should have stuck with and persevered to do, no. I may still dabble in it out of necessity and I know I can’t neglect the skills and talent I have in it, but it wasn’t one of those things. I know those things very well. Those things that get your heart beating and transport you into the realms of the sublime. It’s those things that burn right into your very soul and photography never made it deep enough to make a scorch mark on my heart.

But during uni, I had an experience that introduced me to my secret love that I didn’t pick up on until years later.

The moment the secret love emerged

One of my favourite places is the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, Australia. I’ve been there many many many times, over many many years. With school, with uni, with my dad. This particular time was during uni at an exhibit that is so significant in my memory that I can’t remember what it was because I had snuck downstairs to see something else. I assume the reason I was there was photography-related but I can’t be sure. Not the point! I went down the escalators, turned right, and entered wonderland.

There was a collection of impressionist-era paintings on exhibit with a few cubists in there for good measure. My curiosity was twigged as we happened to be learning about those eras of art history in one of my core subjects that year. I walked up to one – gosh! That’s a Picasso! Cripes, that’s another! I was blown away. These paintings were amazing. To think that nearly a century before that artist had actually stood there and painted it and now their vision was thousands of miles away in Sydney all these years later being viewed by a nineteen year-old blonde art student. I could see time wrapped up in beauty, I could see the forging of philosophy, of ideology, of art theory. Subversion of the norm. History in colour. Game-changing ideas on a stretch of canvas. Artists who had been derided, shunned, sometimes applauded and lauded, but always committed. I had been learning about these artists and here I was, standing in front of their work. I was in awe, I was excited, I was humbled, I was overjoyed. It’s one thing to see a reproduction of a painting on a slide being projected in a lecture hall, quite another to then see that painting in person and realise just how magical that moment is.

Like the difference between hearing a symphony on your digital music delivery method of choice then experiencing the orchestra in person. There are no words. None.

I just can’t tell you the feeling I got then, and continue to.

But then, I saw it. A Pisarro. Nothing ground-breaking, I suppose, it was a painting of a house and garden, but it was magnificent. It was sublime. It took my soul, my heart and my mind to places indescribable. The brushstrokes of the impressionists are just crazy – I think every colour known to man was blobbed onto that canvas but when you stood back, the brushstrokes disappeared and a pretty garden emerged.

I stood there for ages and ages. A seed of passion was being planted and I had to acknowledge something.

I love paintings.

I love them.

I adore them.

Eventually I must have sighed happily, turned and gazed in absent adoration at the other pieces, visited the Picassos again, then went home. Since then, each and every time, when I go to exhibitions of great masters – why hello Caravaggio, Monet, Kandinsky! – I am spellbound. No photograph could ever do what paintings were doing to me.

Epiphany of pursuing the secret love

This is where I explain that hint that I mentioned at the start. My dad was an artist himself so of course I typically didn’t want to be just like my dad, like some other teenagers also don’t, I wanted to be me so it never occurred to me to give it a real go. I assumed I could just love from afar.

But it occurred to my dad. He suggested it one time, years after uni, and I had an epiphany. Why not? Honestly, it never occurred to me that I could try it myself. For real. So I did and showed some promise under the guidance of a full-time artist and was pleased to find I did enjoy it and eventually held a joint-exhibition with my dad. It was great, but it was hard. I had to sacrifice nights, weekends, public holidays, all in the scramble to get a dozen paintings ready in time. One may love a hobby or creative pursuit but to become great at it I saw before me a mountain of-

Hard work. Dedication. Practice. Practice. Practice.

What can’t I be super amazing at this without effort? Oh, honey. That’s not really how it works. If you want to do something badly enough, you have to put in the hard work and have the motivation at hand to persevere with it.

Paintings from first exhibition
Snapshot of some of the paintings from my first exhibition

Motivation for the secret love

Ah, that old chestnut. How well do I know the fleeting feeling of motivation, it lasts only so long and eventually blows up in my face. Or is that just me? These secret loves always sound great in thought-land, that idyllic enchanted place where everything is sunshine and rainbows and where you see the finished product. But when you actually get started that motivation wanes and you realise your level of commitment. Is it high or is it low? If that’s not you and you enjoy the whole journey from start to finish, I sometimes wish I was more like you. But I’m not, I’m the one who has to kick my butt into gear – continually – to overcome challenges and weaknesses that get in the way of achieving anything. Laziness. Indifference. Meh. All the things that later you despise yourself for because they kept you from doing stuff that mattered most.

How do we stay motivated? Well, totally not a topic to go into in depth in this post, that’s for sure, but it is a key ingredient to fostering a secret love so find a way to keep that flame alive. There are two things I remind myself of when I need motivation. The first is a question: if I don’t pursue this, will I regret it? If the answer is yes, then I must, at all costs, make that thing a part of my life. The second thing is a memory; just being blessed enough to witness firsthand or be told when someone else was transported by something I had painted and they instantly purchased it so they could keep that feeling forever, I was so humbled that it filtered down and settled into the core of my passion for painting. I decided I needed to feel that feeling again and again, to help bring a semblance of beauty into someone else’s life like others do for me with their paintings.

The home studio
The home studio back in the day

And your secret love?

What’s your secret love? Do you have a particular talent for something? Heck, even if you don’t have a standout ability for it but it brings you a joy that no other pursuit on a Saturday morning can, then I say that’s a few hours well spent feeding your soul.

What is your secret love? Cooking? Photography? Cars? Nature?

One common tragedy I keep finding is that people neglect their secret loves, they don’t make the time for them or they just don’t think they could justify the time spent on something so ‘unproductive’. What is more beneficial than feeding joy in your life? What about when you justify that weekend spent on Netflix watching an entire series of some brain-numbing show? Why are you letting yourself get swept up in the busyness and mediocrity of life when you could be a master creative? Why don’t you finish that project you’ve been meaning to finish? Have you always wanted to get crazy good at photography? Why not do that short course after work each week? Just think how amazing that could be.

Secret loves are what makes life that much richer. I don’t want to exist in endless rainy days of boringness. I want vibrancy, I want my heart to beat with the excitement that comes out of creating beautiful things. I want to feel alive.

And there’s only one thing keeping me from that; me. Because dedicating part of my weekend to finish off a painting is – I admit it! – boring at times. Secret loves can be hard work and not at all rewarding all the time, so it’s the following through and facing the challenges that drift in to stop you from getting things done that makes your motivation so precious; lose it and you’ll put that paint brush down and give up. That’s when I remember the payoff and challenge myself to not be so lazy, I need to instead channel that frustration and just get it done. You must decide what’s important to you and make it part of your life. You have to. Will you regret it if you don’t? Then you have your answer.

No excuse

You were born with personality. You were born with creativity. You were born with passion. It’s so sad when people sigh wistfully as they admit they have some creative pursuit that they feel guilty they’re not pursuing. I’m tired of it. Because I realise that is exactly what I can sound like but now I’ve come to the conclusion that I just can’t be wistful anymore. I can’t keep looking at other people and their achievements and wish that was me. I just can’t. I have to set my sights on my passions and throw my heart into them, no matter what. It may be a mountain to climb but I’m gonna do it anyway. I must. I’ll regret it if I don’t and I loathe regret.

What makes you smile? What makes you lose track of time? You can’t ignore who you are and the creativity you have, the interests and the passions. But ignore them long enough and they will become the regrets of youth and I never want to feel that icky feeling ever again, I don’t know about you. Pick up a paintbrush. Pick up a camera. Learn a musical instrument. Write a song.

Be yourself.

You won’t regret it.


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