Never Feel Bound to Your Original Idea or Plan (Principle 2)

When I was studying at the National Academy my instructor admonished me for not totally planning my work before I began. That was very dispiriting as I have never worked that way. (Even when I was in my Businessman phase I learned as I went.) “Planners” I know view it as a matter of “professionalism,” they scorn the “happy accident” and such serendipity as a sign of weak abilities. Even Monet appears to have been quoted in this regard, however, I find it hard to believe that the painter of the “Water Lilies” believed what he was saying.

Without getting into metaphysics here, the work tells you what it wants. Just about all of my paintings end quite differently from what I originally intended. The plan is a framework usually made with one’s present concepts and abilities in mind, but as it proceeds it reveals problems and holes that needs to be answered. At least I hope so, it would be so uninteresting to paint something on autopilot.

Picasso said his work was “the sum of destructions.” It seems he would begin with an idea which could change radically as he worked. If he put a spot of red that didn’t work he would use something else and the red would turn up somewhere else. Maybe he looked at painting as a zero-sum game, a closed system that needs working out. But the point is that he looked for answers to problems that he himself posed and was not merely taking dictation from his brain.

For sure I don’t work like Picasso, but I too feel it is the process that matters most. Paintings should be mostly about color, line, texture and paint as well as other things germane to visual art. I usually steer clear of narrative having no wish to tell a story. That kind of painting needs techniques which don’t readily admit an open, exploratory approach.

I like to paint beyond what I already know and that means a lot of experimentation which I prefer to do “live,” not in studies. This method of working keeps spontaneity at the forefront and “happy accidents” don’t have to be recreated later. In a similar vein, some musicians like to keep the tape rolling throughout their sessions so good takes can be preserved and not restated at a later time.

A good paintings integrates everything that the artist is capable of at the time it is done. It is a statement of, about and within a particular time and place. To get to this level of work one must remain open and flexible, sensitive to the process.


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