Work Never Meant To Be Seen The deeper motivation to days spent in the studio


Every painting has a “frame edge” – about 1/4 of an inch around each side that will be hidden by the inner edge of the frame – this holds the painting in place, keeping it from falling forward onto the floor.

It’s a fair assumption that anything within this area will not be visible, and most artists plan accordingly while working.

This week, I was working on a large painting, and realized that a few details I was about to execute would be lost behind the frame.

I went ahead and put them in anyway, and it reminded me of a something I once heard. 


Apparently stone masons working on the restoration and maintenance of old cathedrals and churches in Europe will frequently find beautiful, detailed work that would never be seen by people in the church below – often high up in the vaults of the ceiling – as much as 100 feet above the floor.

Work that had obviously taken a great deal of time, expense, and energy to create, yet would always remain completely invisible.

And the artists who carved them knew it.

In fact, they were not meant for human eyes. They were carved by devout Medieval craftsmen to glorify God – a form of devotional prayer on their part.


Most of what happens in the studio is about on the same level as what happens in an auto garage – plain, ordinary, down-to-earth problems (hopefully) getting plain, ordinary, down-to-earth solutions.

The paint is too thick – add a little turpentine to make it flow better.

The red is too dull – add a richer color to bring it alive.

The handle of the teacup is too broad – bring a little of the background in to narrow it.

That sort of thing.

And that is as it should be – people with their heads stuck permanently in the clouds can never create anything of actual value.


Yet it is a deadly mistake to completely lose sight of the higher purposes to making art – something everybody who practices this craft should meditate on from time to time.

It’s no secret that the world can be a dark and ugly place.

But not all of it.

It’s up to each of us – individually – to find our way to bring the light according to our own gifts.


In its most refined form, painting is a meditation – a spiritual pursuit – a form of prayer, even.

By bringing a little beauty into the world and appreciating when others do so as well, we can all take a stand against the despoiling and brutality all around us.

By engaging in this practice, I know I make myself a better person – even if nobody else sees it.

It’s my deep hope (and guiding motivation) that in my own modest way I can push back a little against the darkness and share even a tiny ray of light – and a lot of tiny rays can add up.

Whether we consciously view it this way or not, art is a spiritual quest for both the artist and the viewer – a spiritual pilgrimage in a spiritual land – and I wish you well on your travels.

Meanwhile, all those little details remain hidden behind the frame edge, right where they belong.