When did you first get into painting and what inspired
MATT MILLER: The pithy story of how I became an artist goes like this: I was self-medicating with art therapy and got addicted to it.
I’m being tongue-in-cheek when I describe it that way. But it’s true and there are some important lessons in the story. I’ll spare the ugly details here, but I went through a rough patch about six years ago. A lot of things in my life weren’t going well and this took a toll on me mentally. I was losing hope that I could pull things back together. But, fortunately, earlier that year I had taken a drawing class. And then I started painting. A lot. It turned out to be a very healthy activity for me at that time. I’m not sure how I would have gotten through that period without it.
The activity of painting can be a much-needed escape. When I’m fully engaged in a creative challenge, it helps me get into a flow state. On these occasions, my brain is no longer able to devote any resources to the things that are bothering me. It’s similar to what you can experience during yoga or getting a runner’s high.
Another thing worth mentioning is that pursuing art provided my life with a new set of meaningful rewards. I was using my own two hands to make stuff. And I was getting better. That motivated me to keep challenging myself and leveling up in my skills. It made me feel more confident and helped me get excited about life and its possibilities.
Some of your paintings are portraits of political figures. When did you begin doing these and what was the idea behind it?
MILLER: Even though I’ve been a hardline libertarian for most of my adult life, I never really wanted to make “political art” or identify as a “libertarian artist.”
But I do like to paint portraits of great individuals who inspire me or who represent my values. And recently I’ve started doing portraits of our heroes in the liberty movement. These would include free market economists (such as Walter Williams or FA Hayek), individualist philosophers (Rand or Nietzsche), founding fathers (not all of them), and other enemies of the state like H.L. Mencken or Lysander Spooner.
I don’t know of any other visual artists who are paying respects to these individuals. Being one of the few has helped me reconnect with the liberty movement. Last summer I displayed some of my paintings at FreedomFest and I also did some live paintings during the event. I hope to contribute my talents at more liberty events in the future.
What are your preferred methods and tools for painting? Have you tried other forms of art?
MILLER: I primarily use acrylic paint on canvas. For the most part I have painted with brushes, but this year I have been working on my palette knife skills. The latter allows me to apply
thicker paint, which gives the final product a more interesting textured finish. I’m just starting to get comfortable painting with knives and I think it’s taking the quality of my work to the next level. I’m really excited about that.
I haven’t really dabbled in many other media or forms of art. Sometimes I perform stand-up comedy at open mics. I’d like to learn drums and play in a metal band.
Do you like to create art with a message and purpose or create art for arts sake?
MILLER: For me, painting is kind of like a sport. It’s a skill-based activity that I enjoy doing for its own sake and I’m obsessed with getting better. As I mentioned above, I get sort of a natural high from painting. But that requires me to continually take on new challenges.
One of my artistic specialties is live painting. I enjoy it because it forces me to create art under high-pressure conditions. Usually there is a time limit, so I have to work fast and improvise. Sometimes I have to adapt to unpredictable weather and poor lighting conditions. And there are spectators to engage with while I work. Live painting forces me to be “in the zone” just like an athlete on game day.
I think it’s important for me to share what painting means to me, how it makes me feel, and how good it is for my brain. But there are other activities that can provide this value; different people will find it in different things. As an artist, that’s the main message that I wish to share. Or to embody by being an example. As far as my paintings go, most of them are not meant to “say” anything sophisticated. I guess that means I’m not as “deep” as some artists, but it also means I’m not as pretentious. Like I mentioned, painting is like a sport to me. So you can think of me as a jock with a paint brush.
Do you think more libertarians should focus on art and creative projects?
MILLER: In this day and age, libertarianism is the genuine counterculture. Most of the major institutions in America (the government, media, corporations, pro sports, and entertainment industry) have become hostile to us and our ideas. This is fertile ground for the creation of bold, authentic art that questions the mainstream narrative and challenges the powers that be.
But I think the libertarian movement has some work to do in this regard. We certainly have the intellectual part down. For example, there are plenty of conferences where geeks in bowties can gather for lectures and intellectual debates. But we need more culture. I would love to see more libertarian festivals where we socialize and enjoy shared experiences that involve music, art, yoga, nature, and so on. This is starting to happen and I hope it continues. It would be good for the movement.