I was visiting with a fellow artist last night and she was commenting on a having to work through new processes to motivate her into being more productive. I shared this feeling with her as one that I’ve faced myself many times over the years, and I still am.
I’m showing this Matisse for the purpose of illustrating a point about making it look too easy. He’s a good target for that. I don’t care to discuss the artistic merit of this drawing, but rather to look at it from a point of view of process. There’s much that can be discussed on this subject that I will avoid, but just for a personal example let me say that if I were to make a copy of this drawing or something similar it would obviously not take much effort. That of course is sort of the point in this case where Matisse had intentionally stripped away the complexity, but nonetheless, if I were to make a whole series of such things that were as easy as walking across the floor, why did I bother? What did I accomplish? I’d rather look like I just walked across Africa, but not because I was lost. Another example for me would be to finish a quick portrait using a very limited palette with as few brushstrokes as possible. I’ve seen many examples of that and they are greatly celebrated. It doesn’t impress me when things look too easy. While it might demonstrate a facility of technique and skill, for me it seems like I’d just be going through the motions and wasting materials. I want it to be difficult and look that way. The flipside of that is making something very complex but poorly designed, which would also be a waste of time and material.
What I have personally been trying to do for most of my career is to take what I’ve learned and what’s familiar and to move into new territory with it in order to challenge myself. Currently that involves small shifts of trying out different materials, tools, and techniques. It’s risky and means that there will be failures, but that’s what makes it exciting for me. My goal isn’t to find simpler or more economical solutions, but to explore the process. In commercial work and commissions I don’t have the luxury of risking failure, but I can apply what I’ve learned from those successful experiments that I made on my own time.
On the other end of this is the need to just paint. When I spend too much time targeting work that must be worthy I won’t get anything done. A certain amount of learning comes from the execution of the work itself and being consistent from one piece to the next. That requires constant practice, study, and repetition, much like an athlete will do before a game. I just don’t want to be stuck in a rut that will wind up boring me and make the creative process seem like a chore.