A Secret Artists and Collectors Know

Philip Koch, Blackberry River Forest, oil
55 x 44", 1990

This is a short talk I gave at the University of Maryland University College at the opening reception dinner for their 2004 exhibition of my paintings A Vision of Nature.

Artists and art collectors have something in common- it is that search for that special painting. While there are far easier ways to decorate, art collectors sense on a gut level that there is a special quality they want more of in their lives.

Experience, living, is more unexpected than we adults let on. Sometimes it is even strange. The message of painting, and of my paintings, is that this is ok, and beyond that, that allowing ourselves to embrace this awkward side of our experience makes us stronger, gives us bigger lives, makes us more potent, and best of all, happier.

When someone brings a painting home and puts it up on their wall ultimately they are doing it for only one reason- they somehow sense it will make them an artist of their own lives.

A painter knows a secret recipe. I put down on a big canvas several thousand colors, shapes, layers, brushstrokes. Each of them resonate from a part of our experience- a memory of a place, or a person, or a delight, or a fear.

We put in way more than we need, for it is like a giant casting call. Everyone, each brushstroke, is allowed and even encouraged to be themselves. I accept and I value every color, every drip, every smear from the most beautiful to the most inelegant.

It starts going in a dozen different directions, and this is good for in its early stages you want a painting to be at cross purposes, to be a little insane.

My studio is really a kitchen where on any given painting I stir these ingredients at a low simmer for sometimes several months on end, sometimes longer.

I am finding out who can learn to dance with who, who must be painted out of the painting, and who needs to be given a starring role.

Finally the painting is done and taken out of the kettle to cool. And only if you listen closely, the painting whispers its secret message to you: "Yes, life can be ridiculous, sometimes crazy, yet it is often so beautiful. I was born with some of that chaos and confusion, but I made some sense of it. Spend time with me, look at me whenever you can. I am your tool to make you an artist of your own life."


  1. Well said Philip! Thank you for being so brave to bare your soul. We all hope to learn that it's about stiring the emotions. For only after knowing what emotions are, can you paint with them.

    barbara, "land of boz"

  2. Thanks Barbara. We humans are excitable critters, aren't we. But sometimes we have some moments of real grace. I'll take it whenever it's offered. I know looking at some of my favorite paintings (Vermeer, Rembrandt, etc.) I'm been stirred by emotions I don't think we even have names for. But they're real and in the hands of the finest painters, somehow they make sense.

    I forget who it was that first told me art was a tool for living, but I am very fond of that idea.


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