Painting as a Pastime: Part I

Painting as a Pastime: Part I

"The truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it, ignorance may divide it, but in the end, there it is." -- Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was a leader of leaders. He is widely regarded among the most influential people in British history, and in 2002 was actually named the Greatest Britton of all time. He served two terms as Prime Minister (1940-1945; 1951-1955) and was the only Prime Minister to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature (1957). He even became the first person to be made an Honorary Citizen of the United States.

In addition to being a statesman and author, he was also an officer in the British army and a historian. In spite of a speech impediment early in life, about which which after years of practice he could say, "My impediment is no hindrance," he became one of the great orators of his generation.

But he was also a painter. And it was at the blackest moment of his life in 1915 which became the catalyst for Churchill's essay "Painting as Pastime." Originally written as two essays in 1932, it was in 1948 that Churchill published his thoughts. That black moment occurred under his leadership with the military failure of the Dardanelles campaign.

It was during World War I, and Churchill had a brilliant idea to knock the ailing Ottoman Empire out of the war. Just as they were a few minutes from a stunning victory with the Turks who, unbeknownst to the attackers, were almost out of ammunition, the admiral in command called off the attack. With that hesitation, the Turks regrouped and the Allies lost the battle along with 60,000 soldiers.

After Churchill's death, his wife Lady Churchill wrote, "The Dardanelles haunted him for the rest of his life. He always believed in it. When he left the Admiralty he thought he was finished. He didn't believe he would ever be asked back into government. I thought he'd never get over the Dardanelles. I thought he'd die of grief."

Os Guinness says, "Forced out of office and crushed by a terrible sense of failure, he found a retreat from the maelstrom of wartime politics in a Surrey farm, and it was there he encountered 'the muse of painting.'"

Churchill opens his essay talking about the importance of change. In fact, he says that "Change is the master key" for the "worry and mental overstrain by persons who, over prolonged periods, have to bear exceptional responsibilities and discharge duties upon a very large scale. Some advise exercise, and others, repose. Some counsel travel, and others retreat. Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety. No doubt all these may play a part according to the individual temperament" but it is change which is the key.

He goes on, "To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least three hobbies, and they must be real. It is no use starting late in life to say 'I will take an interest in this or that.' Such an attempt only aggravates the strain of mental effort... It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do."

"It may also be said," Churchill observed, "that rational, industrious, useful human beings are divided into two classes: first, those whose work is work and whose pleasure is pleasure; and secondly those whose work and pleasure are one. Of these the former are the majority... But Fortune's favoured children belong to the second class. Their life is a natural harmony."

What I found fascinating was that Churchill felt that change is needed more by "those whose work is their pleasure" because they are the ones "who most need the means of banishing it at intervals from their minds."

In his opinion, "Happy are the painters, for they shall not be lonely. Light and colour, peace and hope, will keep them company to the end, or almost to the end, of the day."

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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Originally published in The Phoenix,