I have added a new collection of pages entitled Making Better Art, where I am beginning to assemble my vast accumulation of random thoughts on the topic into some sort of coherent order.
Category Archives: Making Better Art
“Never be so focussed on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.”
Ann Patchett, as her character Dr. Annick Swenson in STATE OF WONDER. The character is actually referring to scientific research with this statement, but the idea is 100% applicable to making art, not only those who do intuitive/experimental art, but to all artists.
In an earlier post, a listing of Demons that plague all artists, I mentioned success as a frequent stumbling block. On the surface it seems strange to consider success to be a potential issue, but there are two particular aspects of success that can cause problems.
1. Falling in love with a part of your painting early on in the process. The danger is that the dynamic of the painting process can change from the successful completion of the piece as a whole to protecting that fabulous part of the piece. The first thing you need to do is be aware of this possibility so you can recognize when it is happening. Secondly, take a photo of that section so that you can store it for future consideration, thus freeing yourself from the fear of losing it. Then continue to work on the piece as a whole, retaining that section or not, as the painting requires. Take the time later to study the photograph to determine what it is that you liked so much about it and hopefully the answers to that question will become stored in the right side of your brain and come through again…….in an entire painting.
2. Winning an award/getting into a prestigious show/words of praise from someone you respect….. potential stumbling blocks if this leads you to limit your work to repeating the same “successful” pieces. I am not referring to working in series and exploring different aspects of a particular idea, I’m talking about becoming tied to what you perceive to be a successful “formula” and hesitating to step outside that proven formula for fear of not being successful.
“Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility.” Pablo Picasso
“Don’t carpet your rut.” Gerald Brommer
There are many fears that plague the artist, but the most debilitating is the fear of failure. Much of this type of fear can be traced back to that kindergarten teacher telling you that you were wrong when you painted the sky green instead of blue. More goes back to the belief that there are “rules” for making art. Still more comes from the mistaken belief that a good artist, an artist with true talent, doesn’t ever make any bad art.
The only way around this problem is to recognize these 2 realities:
1. When it comes to making art, THERE ARE NO RULES and THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG involved.
How can this be? How about all the Principles of Design? What about balanced compositions and complementary color schemes and the rules of perspective? They are all observations/suggestions/considerations/ideas that are good to be aware of and will sometimes come into play as you create, but THEY ARE NOT HARD AND FAST RULES. Name any design principle, and I will show you a dozen pieces that successfully defy that principle.
So if there are no rules, if there is no right or wrong, how can you fail? Easily. By making art that does not please your own sense of what is good art. I will discuss this issue in upcoming posts, but simply put, you need to determine what it is that YOU find pleasing/compelling/meaningful in art.
2. Every artist…..EVERY ARTIST….makes some bad art. Every artist has failures, and in reality each failure adds to your body of experiences. You learn from every failure. As I mentioned in an earlier post, in order to become a good artist you need to do hundreds of paintings (or drawings or whatever), many of which will be failures. The secret (one of the few art secrets there are) is to avoid the inclination to get angry at yourself when you fail, or to berate yourself for your lack of talent, but rather to consider why you feel the piece is a failure and to file that information in your mental file of art experiences. I also get around the issue of feeling that I have wasted materials by saving and either repainting or repurposing every failed piece. (Fortunately, I have a lot of storage space in my studio.)
What I am saying is this: Get out there and just make art. Don’t be such a baby…..so what if you fail? Get a big trash can for your studio.
If you won’t believe me, consider the words of these three great philosophers:
A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. George Bernard Shaw
A man’s errors are his portals of discovery. James Joyce
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Wayne Gretzky
Yesterday was one of those particularly exhilarating days in the studio……a day to begin new paintings. I always work on more than one piece at a time (to allow for drying times, thinking time, using up left-over cups of paint, to be able to try out an inspiration that comes to me while working on one painting to another piece), and I am ready to add to the MINDSCAPE series and begin a new series of small river-related canvasses, title to be determined. 16 new beginnings, no rules (except for the size constraints), no specific plans other that to experiment and play with the textures and the colors. I crank up the music and do my best to keep my mind open to what is happening on the canvasses, confident that I will be able to move forward to a successful conclusion with each piece. I already know, based on past experience, that some will coalesce fairly quickly, and some will develop in a somewhat orderly manner, step by step, and that some will be real, frustrating struggles. Yes, I am interested in the destination, but to me the real joy is in the journey.
“You should have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague one. If you know exactly what you are going to do, what’s the good of doing it? Since you know, the exercise is pointless. It is better to do something else.” Pablo Picasso