I have been trying to write about my art, but it does not come easily. Everything you’ll find here is and will always be a work-in-progress subject to additions, edits, and deletions at any time. If you don’t like it just wait and read it again in a few months. It will probably all be different!
Inspiration & Seeing
I’ve never been driven by inspiration. I see too many artists who have obviously spent more time developing a story around their inspiration than in developing their art. Inspiration is nothing more than a creative starting point to me. It’s a muscle to be exercised regularly and often. Photographer Jay Maisel uses the phrase “visual push-ups” to describe constantly looking for pictures. My years as a photographer have certainly refined my seeing with regard not only to photography but also to the rest of my art. When I first began studying photography extensively in my early twenties I thought I only needed to learn the technical aspects of operating a camera, believing I already had the creativity required. To be honest, I did as an artist, but it’s more than that. It’s not technical skill or creatively but the skill of seeing that can only be grown over years of really looking, of traveling, of being aware, of studying the work of others, of studying new areas of art to push your visual boundaries, and so on.
Inspiration to me becomes not a philosophy dissertation but a creative kick-start. It might be just colors, or texture, or a specific technique. If something grabs my attention I try to use it to create something completely different or just make note of it. I keep several art journals of ideas. I love looking at home decor magazines and seeing art within people’s homes. I’ve never been uninspired because I’ve never been “filled up” on inspiration to begin with. I’m always seeking more.
Pre-visualization & Spontaneity
Some of my work is pre-visualized from the beginning and executed against a methodical, step-by-step plan and some of it is spontaneous and very much the opposite. Photography is a simplistic example because like most photographers I will plan out very specific shots, whether it’s for a local shoot or even thousands of miles away, and then leave others to chance. A photo is typically captured in a fraction of a second but how you get there varies dramatically.
Paintings, whether pre-visualized and not, always change and evolve before completion. With the later I start form an expressionistic state and often reach some plateau of “Now what?” before contemplating the piece for days, weeks, or months and then continuing. This process is not “creative block” or “artist’s block”, but rater pushing the artwork and myself in an unknown direction in order to grow out of it. I equate it to a musician first composing the notes of a song before inventing the lyrics. Both forms are challenging artistically and technically in different ways. With a pre-visualized painting more creativity and fore-thought must come at the beginning. Starting a piece without a plan requires a larger leap of faith. Inevitably, every painting is a bit different and doesn’t neatly fit into category A or category B as I’ve described here but rather a mix.
Time is the most important medium of every artist. It restricts how we create and how much we create, yet artists are also manipulators of time. A painting or photograph can preserve at least a representation of a single instant of time and space forever. A long-exposure photograph of a few minutes to even an hour or more can compress time into one “instant”.
Time has always been an integral part of my work. With the exception of very small works I never paint anything in a day and call it finished. My paintings tend to linger in the studio for a few months, sometimes several years, and in some cases a few decades or more. I am always working on many different pieces at a time. Even with photography I edit and process the digital negatives typically after a long sitting period.
Sometimes it’s a process of thinking, and sometimes a process of forgetting. In the case of the later it’s very similar to a writer who writes the first draft of a novel, puts it away, and purposely doesn’t think about it for many weeks. For a new work it is much easier when you go back to it to be critical and mold it into your vision. For a work nearing completion it’s much easier after a forgetting period to be sharply critical. This applies to photography as much as painting as well.
I have never painted with neat blobs of color arranged in some academic palette formation. I consider it one of the best benefits of being self-taught. I get out colors as I need them, mix as needed, and when done try to donate any excess to neighboring works whether they need it or not. There are painters and photographers who are known by only using a subset of colors, having a “signature look”, only shooting black-and-white, etc. I hope I’m never one of them, at least not in regard to color. Some of my work is highly saturated, some not, some monotone, and others confused. If there are colors that I haven’t used readily yet I hope to get to them eventually.
Every painting is an experiment. Every photograph should be an experiment, at least when art is involved. The thing about not taking risks but relying on experience and skill is that you have a predictable outcome. Unless something you didn’t predict happens or some configuration is different than you thought, then you know what the result will be. It’s the definition of becoming a “professional”. While this is essential for producing dependable, predictable, on budget, commercial work that meets expectations, left unchallenged it also denotes the death of the student and of learning. Experimentation and failure is the only way to transcend professionalism. If you are not failing on a consistent, continual basis then you are simply not trying hard enough to discover something new. The more often you push yourself then the more often you can look forward to both failing and growing.