Lost my Way, charcoal on paper, Damian Osborne, 2016, searching for meaning as an artist
Lost my Way, charcoal on paper, Damian Osborne, 2016. Searching for meaning as an artist.


Searching for Meaning: Where Does Art Come From?

by Damian Osborne


We’re all searching for meaning. And artists, at their core, are visual philosophers. Yet, the ‘art world’ is so full of pretenders. The funny thing is, many artists, and curators, draw a blank when searching for meaning in their art.

Let’s say that you only have a month to live. When last have you looked at a painting or listened to a piece of music, read a novel or poem that moved you at your core?

When it made you look around at your world and realise that what you’ve been seeing all this time, what you’ve been feeling, is not everything. There is so much more.


Searching for meaning in the darkness

I’ve been in a dark place. I’ve been going inward. Feeling hopelessness. I threw my ‘To-Do’ list away and curled up in bed, feeling weakness and self-loathing.

It’s hard to pick yourself up when you feel a boulder on your chest.

But in my darkness, in my loneliness, there was liquid gold. There was a light shimmering as if at the surface of the water when you’re under the ocean.

It’s an eerie place to be in; when you realise that not much matters.

At some point, you’re going to get into that boat, leave behind your life, your loved ones, your hundred projects, wants, things that were said, wishes for things you could do and the opportunities for things to be said; leave behind the shore – possibly without even a goodbye.


Oak Tree Skeletons. Searching for meaning in the isolation of nature.


The Golden Moment

Time stretches before me like gold. I become that gold.

When you love someone and you’re hurting, that hurt is your gold.

When you’ve lost your way and you feel empty, when there’s no point, you sit down because you’re too weak to take another step in any direction.

And you wonder if there is a God listening to your thoughts, your arguments, your anger, your self-pity and your pleas; a God out there listening to your heart and feeling what you’re feeling.

That inward space is where you are pollinated by the spirit.

It can be the simplest, clearest moment while sitting beside the rocket bush with its weedy, starry flowers, watching the busy legs of a bee, carrying gold from one flower to the next and you look into its myriad shards of eyes and you ask it: Did God really make you?

Sometimes nature plays her music to you in a minor key.

And sometimes you’re thrown a golden strand; a ray of light and you realise that love does exist. It is undeniable.

And in that silent communion, that is where art is born – within the soul.

You might not know the why of anything at all, but you know that you feel.

And when you’re surrounded by something golden, you want to try and keep it, transmute it, hold it up for yourself and others.

That is where art comes from.


Searching for meaning by contemplating our ending

It’s all decided for us. Time doesn’t matter when everything comes to an end anyway; when everything is impermanent.

And what is the strangest thing about us as people? That we carry on as if things matter, as if we’re somehow important.

But everybody’s story ends.

Perhaps we’re all designed to be a little narcissistic. Artists are often accused of narcissism.

Artists are often caught up in their own little spheres. But then we are racing against death to say something; leave behind a message before disembarking.

I think artists just turn their lives inside out so that everyone can see. Fundamentally, we’re all the same.

We naturally avoid thinking about the impermanence of our lives because it is heavy to carry that constant weight.

But when you realise the joke that’s being played; that death is going to take everything away anyway, then suddenly the waters rise as a flood and you enter the Golden World.

Your life becomes a work of art.


Where does ‘real’ art come from?

You cannot become a true artist unless your life itself is art to you.

When you suddenly realise that the moments you have left with someone you love are sacred.

Everything is sacred.

The person whose hand you’re holding is a gift. You are blessed.

Who dares to love forever? Who dares to live as art?

A simple and new concept is germinating within me: that life is about people and how you make them feel.

It’s also about how you feel, of what you’re saying, of what you’re making.

It’s less about being recognised.

That may possibly come as a default when you’re truly genuine and authentic to yourself as an artist, but it’s not important.

My friend told me not to worry about all the other stuff besides just painting. Because painting is what I have to do.

As an artist, it’s time to start over.

Success is not measured through material things, fame, how better you are than everyone else; through anything impermanent.

The value of our lives is measured in how much love surrounds you. When you’ve exchanged a lot of love in your life; that is how you measure wealth.

What is that unnameable striving then?

Perhaps it is that elusive expression we are all striving for.

We look for it in art, in a piece of music, a poem, a film, in the eyes of someone who is proud of you, in the expression of wonder in children, in the landscape of our native country, our lover’s head on our lap, in remembering someone you loved and is now gone from this world, in all the words that don’t need speaking.

When you’re in darkness and loneliness and you’re keenly aware of death all around you, of the complete and utter unfairness of it all, then you are looking for that sweet golden moment to be told that: There’s more surrounding you than you could ever possibly dream of.

It’s OK.

That is where art comes from and where it is supposed to take you. It fills your heart like a crashing wave.


Wave and Moon, oil on canvas, Damian Osborne. 


See some of my figure drawings here. 


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