Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Painting as a Pastime

Painting as a Pastime by Winston S. ChurchillChurchill - painting

I hesitate to list this short tome as a book read, but it is a powerful meditation on one of life’s most significant topics from one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

Churchill’s staggering influence often makes him seem a remote figure, and modern tellings of his life too often deify his actions. But reading this book you’ll hear his real voice. Afraid of being mocked, worried about what comes next, exhausted from his struggles, yet still passionate to keep pushing on and seeking to suck more from the marrow of life. There are many gorgeous phrases in this book. As an inveterate scribbler in the margins I wanted to mark them all, and yet felt the pull of the pen to hold back and leave the text untouched so others can enjoy this book in its pure form.

The text ostensibly is about Churchill’s late in life discovery of painting as a pastime. But why this book exists, and why so many non-painters have recommended it, is because it is really about how to manage a career where your passion and profession are the same. That may seem like an indulgent challenge when so many work jobs they can’t stand and are lectured nightly to ‘just follow your passion’. But it’s a real issue.

As Winston notes early on, strain the mind in one direction during the day and without some form of adequate rest (which neither booze nor unconsciousness can quite fill) and it won’t quite rebound in the right way the next day. Churchill discovered that at much greater pressure at 40. At 31 I feel I also have. I love my job and life, without question, but I feel I need some outlet to regularly reset beyond what I have access to. Whether painting is quite right for me I’m not sure. But that there needs to be something -having read this book- I feel no doubt is right.

I remember soon after beginning full time work asking my friends ‘What do you do each night?’. It was a genuine question. Of the mere precious few hours between coming home (5-6) and the necessary movement towards sleep (9-10), there are only so few things that can be done, so little distance put between you and the things you flee. But regardless of the verdict of the previous day you need to accept that deadline, move willingly towards unconsciousness and prepare for another vault into the forge. When thought of this way, the entire process is utterly bizzare, and even a few days eaked out over short holidays or long weekends makes little more sense.

What exactly then do you do during this time? What helps escape the past, salve the return and make meaningful the space inbetween? These are some of the most important and unasked and unanswered questions of our time. This is the rare book which tries to go beyond the utilitarian ideal and talk to this vital topic. For that reason it goes straight to my must read and most treasured pile.