“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” ― Vincent van Gogh
I have only very recently picked up a paint brush. I can assure you I am not ready to show you any of my work. I can also tell you it is that – work. But it is one of the more pleasurable things I have ever done. Staring at the white canvas, putting blobs of intense color on a palette and then changing the whiteness with nothing more than wrist movement is awesome.The video embedded below is by an incredible artist and teacher, Nolan Clark. Watching him has shown me that I can learn the technique and that someday painting with oil will be a mechanism for entering FLOW. He has several free oil painting tutorials and multiple courses and classes that I can highly recommend.
Soon, I will review the art classes Nolan Clark teaches and share with you the joy that I find while I am painting. In this post, I want to share with you instead the “why” of oil painting or any other hobby for that matter.
Hobbies take up time and certainly I have more than enough to do. I hold down a full time job, I am invested in actively blogging to help myself and others prepare for retirement, I am involved in open education at Wealthy Affiliate and am working with John Assaraf to improve my relationship with money, improve my business and master my mindset. In addition, I occasionally take sculpting classes and have purchased several “Great Courses” to improve my knowledge base. All this is on top of taking care of a house, preparing meals, playing with my dogs, maintaining my relationship with my husband and friends and exercising.
The “why” a hobby in general and oil painting is specific is actually pretty clear. I am addicted to FLOW. What exactly is flow? Flow is an experience first described by Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. His seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience demonstrates that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow – a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. Flow has also been called being in the zone or in the groove. There are many ways to reach the state of FLOW and many activities that can get you there. Below is Csikszentmihalyi presenting a TED talk. It is about 19 minutes long but explains flow better than I ever could.
So what does this have to do with painting? We have turned into a culture that spends its “free” time watching television (TV) and TV totally destroys FLOW. We see a lot of studies on the impacts of TV on children but what does it do to the rest of us? There was a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that shows that every hour of TV watched by people age 25 or over equates to a 22-minute reduction in life expectancy. These findings suggest that TV is as bad for you as smoking and lack of exercise. Watching 6 hours of TV a day equates to a loss of 5 years in life expectancy. The average American watches five hours of TV a day. According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association spending 2 hours watching TV increases risks of developing type 2 diabetes. Longer durations of TV viewing were also associated with and increased risk of fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular disease and were associated with overall increases in all-cause mortality. Risks for all of these responses is linear so the more your watch TV the greater your risk. These associations with TV viewing were observed in European, Australian and US populations. One last study I want to discuss was published in Chest and demonstrated that increased sitting while watching TV increased long sleep onset latency, waking up too early in the morning, poor sleep quality and higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea.
Other suggested findings about watching TV that I have not personally researched include:
- Watching TV puts the viewer into a highly suggestible sleep-like hypnotic state.
- When you watch TV, brain activity switches from the left side of your brain (responsible for logical thought and critical analysis) to the right side.
- Watching TV is addictive because it causes the body to release endorphins.
- Watching TV reduces higher brain activity.
- TV may increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adults.
So back to my addiction to FLOW which explains my aversion to TV. I find FLOW in my work but usually only for short periods because my days are also filled with interactions with others. I find FLOW when I am writing. I often find FLOW when I am learning and interacting with loved ones. I have occasionally found FLOW when preparing a meal and cleaning the house and I have definitely found FLOW when meditating. However, these activities do not take a full 16 hours a day seven days a week. In my free time I wanted to find something creative that could enhance the potential of FLOW that was different from everything else I did – hence, oil painting.
The pleasure I derive from the creativity stimulated by oil paintings is most likely related to emotion regulation. In fact, there is preliminary evidence that task enjoyment and motivation mediates the relationship between trait-consistent emotion regulation and creative performance. However, the most important thing I get from painting with oils is that it is fun. In addition, it is a challenge and it stimulates a part of my brain that is not stimulated by any other activity. Albert Einstein said, “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”.
My advice to you is to turn off the TV and find something pleasurable to do. Maybe you will even join me in oil painting. Data shows that without TV you will be happier, live longer and be smarter. What more could you want.
Please give me your thoughts and comments. Other ideas that we might use to get rid of that big addictive box in our house would be greatly appreciated. I would also like to hear how you find FLOW.
Hey Susan, I really loved your post. That Van Gogh quote from the beginning was absolutely perfect 😀
I agree that watching TV destroys FLOW, I personally rarely watch it and I always prefer to spend my time with something else, like reading a book. Or oil painting, as this could be something I’d really try.
I’m really eager to see your paintings 😉
I completely agree with this article. We all have a temptation to spend too much time just switching on the TV and switching off our brains. It is very rewarding to find some other activity that gives us enjoyment and tests us at the same time. I’m looking to find new hobbies all the time. Have you got a suggestion for me?
Dear Molly, Thank you so much for you comment. I do not really have a list of hobbies that I could recommend but I do have some ideas on how to find hobbies you might like for yourself. I am by training and profession a scientist, so I explore activities that will stimulate the creative side of my psyche. Because of my profession, I tend toward sedentary and am almost always inside. The hobby I am pursuing to counter that behavior is golf. My recommendation is that you try multiple things that are very different (perhaps even opposite) than how you spend the majority of your time. You might discover a whole different side of yourself that is just waiting to be discovered.
Wow Susan. That was very well written. Thank you so much for the information. I agree with your statement regarding the pharmaceutical drugs. In my website I have made comments regarding my thought process on the same subject. I believe the pharmaceutical company’s are making us sick. If they keep us well, they don’t make money. I’m sorry for being so blunt. it was my turn to rant. Smile.
I am also a baby boomer without knowing how old I am. I learned how to surf at 45 years of age. I once had someone tell me to act my age and that I was doing activities designed for young people. Our mind is very powerful and if we think we are old, then we are indeed old. Therefore I don’t have a number associated with my age anymore..
I love to travel. I appreciate your tips on traveling and the next time I’m out of the country I will pursue STEP! You have such wonderful information. I love your site! Thanks again. I’ll be back!
Darlene, Thank you for spending time with me. It is wonderful to meet someone who approaches life the way I do. To have anyone define actions as age-related in these days and times is very strange. Unfortunately, those that associate behaviors with a number aren’t going to have much fun. I am glad you like my tips. I will try to keep them coming.
First off, thank you for the useful article. I always thought retirement was a strange idea. Who would ever want to stop being active? I know what you mean about that television though. It can sap the life out if you let it. I especially like your mention of FLOW. I’m a fisherman who sometimes works on a boat, and flow is very important to our job. Thanks again. Geoff
Thanks Geoff, Retirement is a strange idea if you hold the belief that it means becoming inactive. My view of the word is that I no longer have to work for a wage but instead get to explore my other interests on a whim, or even seriously. Television is insidious because it has become such a part of so many lives that talking about the shows you watch are now a part of acceptable conversation. I can see how flow would be important to working on a boat. The need to be in the present must be intense.
I liked your post first of all because it is about an original theme. Whenever I think of painting my first feeling is rejection because I donâ€™t feel compelled to do so, however after reading your post and Van Goghâ€™s phrase I should give it a try.
Your post is very informative and clear you hit another interesting point which is the flow. The first time I hear about that, it sounds me strange, and then I heard about some real examples like when Haendel wrote his Messiah isolating himself from other even without eating anything for days.
I could say that I have experienced myself periods where my mind is so focused that could say Iâ€™m in flow, but of course not yet so deep like Haendelâ€™s.
Dearest Tommy, Thank you for your comment. Once you have experienced flow, even though not as deeply as Handel’s Messiah, it is hard to not reach for it again. It will happen anytime we are completely involved in what we are doing and our focus is concentrated. There is actually a scientific reason for this. During flow, our brains become so focused on the activity with such clarity that there is no room for recognizing or responding to the other stimuli around us. May you continue to seek opportunities that give rise to flow.