Winston Churchill was a Painter

Winston Churchill was a painter. Who knew? While in London recently I picked up his essay, Painting as a Pastime and it is so delightful I had to share it.  

I think it’s extra delightful because it was written by a man who was known for his strength and grit, and based on what he wrote, It seems much of his ability to lead and persevere came from his painting practice.

It was his sanctuary from the madness of life and he shares his experience of the transformative power of painting in this essay.

Churchill says:

“A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just in the same way as he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles: one cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened not merely by rest but by using other parts.”

Churchill discovered that painting used ‘other’ parts of him which rested and strengthened the parts of himself that we’re being worn down and overused.

He goes on to say that while reading is the “most common form of diversion… [it suffers] from one serious defect. [reading is] too nearly akin to the ordinary daily round of the brain-worker to give that element of change and contrast essential to real relief.”

This is one of the best arguments I have heard for the healing and restorative power of painting. This is why painting truly is, and should be, for everyone.

Going to art school and being a classically trained painter is wonderful, and I am truly in awe of the great master painters of the world, however painting is so much more than that and should not be reserved only for those few.

The physical act of using both sides of your brain (since we tend to use the left more) has a restorative effect. Painting gives you the opportunity to use both sides. As Churchill points out, “to restore psychic equilibrium we should call into use those parts of the mind which direct both eye and hand.”

As someone whose mind is quite active, painting has harmonized my life and spirit in a way that nothing else did. I can say I’m a much happier person when I paint regularly.

I think the fact that coloring books have become so popular recently is that people recognize the harmonizing power of using both eye and hand. However, I would encourage you to paint and draw your own images. Take the risk to doodle or splash some paint around and see what shows up. You have your own language of symbol and color within you that can soothe and delight you. Let go of notions about talent or “getting it right.” There is nothing to prove or get right here, just let yourself express and play.

Churchill didn’t take up painting until he was forty years old, during “a most trying time,” and by the end of his life had painted over five hundred paintings.

“Happy are the painters,” He said, “for they shall not be lonely. Light and color, peace and hope will keep them company… to the end of the day.”

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