Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Paralysis By Analysis
Okay, show of hands; how many of you made a resolution this year to get better at your craft? Yeah, I thought so. It's an affliction that gets all of us at one time or another. Heck, last year I made the same vow. And who can fault us for it? We're supposed to try to get better. That's what we do. And we certainly know how to get better; we study great artists past and present. We read or re-read our favorite how-to books. We work harder at our drawing skills. We take classes or workshops. The hope is that by doing all that we can incorporate all that learning into our paintings. But here's the thing: what is better supposed to look like?
Like I said, I made the same resolution to improve last year. I studied a lot of art. I wanted to really see what was going on in today's art world. I came across many, many naked women lounging on un-made beds or Victorian sofas. They were beautifully painted with loose, flowing strokes of glowing color. "Oh my," I thought, "my lobster boats aren't anything like that. I should try to keep the looseness of those paintings in mind when I paint." I also saw a veritable cornucopia of pumpkins and gourds with assorted roses and tea cups. These were lovingly painted in cool colors on warm colored semi-finished backgrounds, or warm colors on cool backgrounds. "Wow," thought I, "Those combinations are cool! I need to keep that color scheme in mind when I paint my little farm scenes." I read a library's worth of art books to aid me with composition and design. I spent more time with my sketch pad than I had in years. I also took a work shop with Stapleton Kearns and picked up a ton of information to use in my paintings. In short; I thought I did everything I could to improve my paintings.
But somehow, with each passing painting I grew more and more disillusioned with my results. I'd start a painting with the usual degree of excitement and optimism, chomping at the bit to use some of my new found knowledge. But invariably, I would end up completely lost as to what I was trying to do. I would struggle and re-work and fight my instinct to paint it the way I always do. I just didn't have any idea in my head what the damn thing was supposed to look like! To put it mildly-- it was very discouraging. I know what you're thinking. "Surely, there must be an analogy here somewhere?" Yes, there is! And don't call me Shirley...
I was like a kid with a 2,000 piece Lego set. And I still couldn't make anything but stairs!
Which brings me back to: What does improvement look like? I have plenty of artistic heroes, and others that I greatly admire. Should my work look like theirs? Should someone mistake my work for a Homer? Or a Rockwell? Or, even a Schmid, Lipking or Kearns? I mean, they are all great painters, aren't they? Yes they are-- because they have their own voice. And I spent all of last year trying to sing like them, when it's my voice I needed to improve. In other words, stop trying to change what comes naturally to me. The painting at the top of this page is indicative of my voice: I will beat you over the head with chroma and detail. I may still not know what improvement looks like, but I do know it has to look like something I would do.
If some of my whining sounds familiar, I apologize. I kind of covered this ground not too long ago. I had mentioned before that this blog is really me talking to myself in a kind-of therapy session. I guess I needed another visit. So thanks for listening. I guess I'm just going to chug on over to mamby-pamby land now...