Yesterday I painted a 24x24 panel of the Superstition Mountains and for some reason it got me thinking about the question that is the title of this post. This has always seemed a strange question to me because, apart from all the other things that are required to create a painting, the time spent really is of minor importance, especially if the questioner means the amount of time spent actually working at the easel. The question fails to consider the time spent leading up to this imagined "easel time". Does it really matter how long it took Van Gogh to paint The Starry Night? Perhaps in an art history sense it matters, but would knowing the time in days or hours deeply affect your enjoyment of the painting?
Day After It Rained, the piece pictured here, is a prime example. It is the result of a lot time spent hiking, painting and photographing on location and still more time in the studio working up ideas and drawings that reflected what I hoped to paint. Also, I am happy the way the saguaros turned out, but that is only because I have seen, photographed and painted thousands of them. I've also examined the many ways other artists paint them. The ones painted here would not appear as they do had I not committed myself to all that "saguaro time".
More abstractly, should I also include the time I spent the day before? The one where I raced around for eleven hours trying to see and paint this years wildflowers two hours from my home only to arrive back at home virtually empty handed and somewhat dejected. I converted the angst from that "wasted" day into having a more productive day painting the work here.
Extrapolating backward, isn't each completed painting the sum total of the artists experiences and practices up until that point? Couldn't I answer the time question by simply giving my current age down to the second it was finished? Could I go further and say it is in my genes to create? My grandfather was an artist, my father is also very creative. Maybe I come from a long line of artists that stretches back through the millennium, back to the cave paintings of our neolithic ancestors and beyond. Could I attach more time and go back to one of my pre-homo sapien primate relatives who first thought to draw a line in the sand with a stick just to see what happens? Can I say proudly that this work took a couple million years to make?
Maybe I'll just say 4 hours, 27 minutes and 53 seconds, give or take a few million years.