A great deal has been written about meaning in art. After all, our brains are meaning making machines and the simple experience of looking at art has been discovered by many gallery visitors to be a very meaningful way to spend a few hours.

Of course I could wax lyrical about the inexorable links between art and philosophy. How over the ages, back to the days when we lived in caves, art has always been a collective reflection of humankind’s continuous quest for meaning.

But there’s another side to that Great Endeavour and that is the very personal quest that each artist confronts when they reflect on their work; finding meaning in the work they do.

In recent years this has been very much my lived experience, and it somehow took me by surprise.

For decades I have longed to have the time and space in my life to be truly immersed in my art-making activities. I couldn’t conceive of a more blissful existence. But for all those years there were all those life hurdles that kept me from that indulgence. The usual stuff, finances, kids and school fees. That contemporary Faustian bargain we make of committing the best hours of most days to this process of earning good shelter and good food.

But then at last my life changed when circumstances unexpectedly landed me at a point when I had the time and space in my life to bury myself into my arts practice.

It turned out to be so very unexpectedly hard. But let me try to explain.

Over many years I had delighted in painting landscapes. Mostly it was my way to revel in nature’s beauty and in hindsight I can also see I found meaning in my response to the challenge to develop better techniques and skills in my work.

But over time the meaningfulness of producing the work faded. Interestingly, the more I felt I was achieving mastery in the process of applying paints to canvas, the more I noticed a sort of inner emptiness with the completion of each painting. It was no longer enough to try to make beautiful paintings reflecting beautiful surrounding, instead I found an inner yearning to dig deeper, to explore my inner landscapes in my art.

And the test to find if I am on track has become a deep response within my consciousness at the conclusion of each painting. Is it a “meh” response or did I feel I had been somewhere new? Sometimes that ‘new’ place feels very uncomfortable or full of uncertainty. Sometimes it can almost be elation at feeling I have discovered something deeply special.

The deeply frustrating part of this process of trying to produce work led by this flickering guiding light of inner satisfaction is that I can seldom know in advance how I am going to end up feeling about a work until I have reached its conclusion.

My quest for this feeling of meaningfulness in my work took over two years of consistent work in the studio. During this time I explored different media, different techniques and different genres. My work felt scattered and all over the place. Much of the time I felt I was going around in circles, getting nowhere. I still feel frustrated that it took so damn long to find my way through this twilight.

I can now share, however, that at last I have started producing work that truly makes my heart sing. And that problem about not knowing if I would like a painting until it was finished? Well now I just keep persevering until I find that inner satisfaction. It means that my paintings now take far, far more hours than I ever imagined I could spend on a painting before that inner knowing shows up. But that inner sense of meaning, of knowing and fulfilment is worth every minute of those many hours of searching.