I have thought about it a lot, and I believe I have the answer to what is the most basic requirement for being an artist (or at least what drives me): An unquenchable desire for things that do not exist.
One of the earliest examples I can remember is that after seeing the movie The Black Stallion as a child, I spent at least six years trying to turn my wish for a horse into reality by sheer force of will.
I read hundreds of books about horses, including memorizing things like how to groom and feed a horse, the different kinds of tack, even Seabiscuit’s lineage. I was sure that I would grow up to be a jockey, a dream that had to fall by the wayside when I got too tall at about age 8.
Now, I know horses exist, so this was more a case of longing for something that I could not have, but as an adult I now recognize that I never wanted a horse.
What I wanted was the relationship between the boy and the horse so beautifully depicted in the film by Francis Ford Coppola (which also had cinematography by Caleb Deschanel – this was one high-powered children’s movie). A fantastical, almost mythical relationship that definitely does not exist. At least not with those “saved by a horse and stranded on a desert island” kind of trappings.
I think most people have experienced this kind of longing before. And if you have more than the average amount of trouble letting it go, you might be an artist.
I have found that I have to be very, very careful what I set my sights on, because it is incredibly difficult for me to stop, even when my goal is clearly unrealistic and unattainable. But on the bright side, when I am creating something, that same persistence keeps me moving until I get to the place where the thing I was longing to see finally exists. Or at least as close as I can get to it in paint. And when it is done, I get a powerful sense of relief, of that same almost mythical sense of connection.
So perhaps in the end I figured out how to have my horse after all.