Painting well is a small feat of magic, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The difference between stage magicians and artists is stage magicians are in on the trick. Artists don’t really know how the rabbit got there.

It’s not that creative people don’t know what they’re doing. The better the artist, the greater the mastery. But in moments of candor, artists have always acknowledged that something else enters in, something surprising even to them.

Robert Frost put it simply, “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

I’ve heard novelists, screenwriters, and famous musicians speak of the work taking on a life of its own. Painters will say, (if things went well), that the canvas seemed to paint itself.

Beginning with nothing, we push inert material, giving it form, until presto!—the spark of life—the sudden thrill—a rabbit out of nowhere.

To choose to paint is to choose an uncertain path promising certain anxiety. There’s no guarantee that any given canvas will work. Or of finding an appreciative audience, or making sales, or even of being understood and taken seriously.

Is it worth it? Yes, and for one reason.

That flash of real magic.

 - David Michael Slonim