Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

When Thomas Eakins was working on this painting of a woman singing, one of his students asked him why he included a rather noticeable wrinkle in the woman's dress.  "Because it's there," replied Eakins.  There you go, Tom!  That's just like something I would do.  I was going to use this post to show a new painting I had just completed.  It's taken me about two weeks of work, as opposed to my usual five days.  It came out pretty much like I thought it would.  I did a lot of prep work to ensure I wouldn't get lost while I was working on it.  Technically, it's one of my better painted scenes.  But I have decided not to show it.  Why?  Because it's like that wrinkle in Eakins dress (so to speak) it shows how a scene looks, but there's not a whole lot of "art" in it.  I may be my own worse critic, but I didn't overburden myself with a whole lot of decision making when I conceived of the picture.  I painted a scene, "because it's there."  Ho-hum.

A painting is not just a testimony of an artists ability with paint and brush, it's an outward visualization of the artists decision making ability.  Why that turn of the head?  Why place that tree at that spot on the canvas?  How come the light is coming from that direction?  Change any of those elements and the picture is entirely different.  But would it be better?  A true master painter makes the correct decision in putting all the elements of a scene in the most dynamic placement possible.

I am not now stating, nor have I ever said that I am a master painter.  (As a matter of fact, in a recent WSJ/NBC News Poll of the Statistically Insignificant 88% said I am not a master anything, 22% said I wouldn't know a master if one slapped me and 19% said I am not even master of my own domain).  What I am saying is that there is always something to think about when you're trying to make a great painting.  And really, isn't that our goal every time we step up to the easel?  Deciding the best possible use of color, composition and design all add up to a quality piece of art.  Choose incorrectly on any of them, and chances are you'll get a dud.  A beautifully painted tree does you no good when it's in the wrong spot.

So there my little painting sits.  A victim of just looking ordinary.  But I'm a "the glass is half-full" kinda guy, in that I'm sure that every step takes you somewhere.  Nothing wrong with back-tracking if it leads you back to the right trail.  I'm sure that I'll make the right decisions on my next painting.

If only I could decide on what it will be...



Susan Roux said...

Gee I've missed your percentages... Mathematician supreme! You've been really exploring yourself and your process lately. I know it will lead you to a place of improvement. Call it backtracking if you will, but getting on the right track is truly a good thing. I hit that stage about a year and a half ago, when I realized early on, when I knew very little about art, I was making the kind of decisions that were creative and good. Somewhere along the way, I became obsessed with improving and technical and representational took over. I'm finally returning to a more creative, freer way of approaching my subject and with favorable results. Don't worry, all that technical stuff you developed along the way will really help your creative mind make good decisions. Can't wait to see what your work looks like in 6 months!

Karen Martin Sampson said...

I agree with Susan. All your technical improvements are going to pay off. Making decisions is the hardest part of making art I think. I repainted several parts of my latest because I knew I had made the wrong decision initially. There are so many ways it can go and narrowing it down to one way over another is a courageous stand to take.