I'm sitting here at my computer illustrating a horse for an equestrian project and this Genn letter popped up in my inbox caught my attention. I've been subscribing to Robert Genn's letters for years but lately have been neglecting to read most of them. This is probably due to the fact that I haven't been painting, but oh is it calling me back. At the moment, I'm doing a study of a J.W. Waterhouse to get warmed up for the next round. I have never done a study outside of class, and I have to say it has been very rewarding. It's fun to experience how one of your favorite artist mixes and applies color and to follow their brush strokes. I think it will require one more sitting and then I will post!
But why this truly caught my attention was thinking of all the variables that go through my head while painting. Or maybe it was because he said "I'm on your question like a fat kid is on a Smartie", hee hee! But really, painting is unlike any other medium I work with. Sometimes I see the image in the brush strokes and it just works. The painting takes on a life of it's own. Sometimes it's a well thought out plan. I tend to want to work very tight, following a strict recipe and standards. Sometimes the painting wants to be loose and I have to break all of my programed rules and simplify, maybe to see what I can learn from it and where it can go. Creation by the manner of reduction as Robert said. There really are no rules, nor should there be, unless you are just learning to paint.
And so this leads me to the question, if you are still reading! Are you a recipe taker, or a recipe fighter?
Robert Genn's letter:
This morning, Michael Epp of Bowen Island, B.C., wrote: "'Just take away everything that doesn't look like a horse.' That's what the sculptors say. Which implies that as long as you avoid all the obvious mistakes, you'll end up with something good. By definition, perfection is merely an absence of error. Is there a list of mistakes for artists to avoid making?"
Thanks, Michael. Your note caught my attention because it had some wonderful assumptions. The horse concept is a vital one because it stresses creation by reduction, in other words the removal of material. This removal does not imply mistakes, but rather the vacuum created to disclose the horse in question. The other three prime suspects in your note are the words "good," "perfection," and "error." In the art game, all are subjective and mighty arbitrary. Nevertheless, I'm on your question like a fat kid on a Smartie.
Don't assume there is only one way. Don't assume that mistakes are a bad thing. Don't think for one minute that everyone agrees with what "good" is. Don't fall into the trap of thinking perfection is attainable or even desirable. Don't assume the existence of error. Art is not based on a catechism.
Art is something else. It is, for better or for worse, the bending of personal will. And while some artists may attempt standards such as academic standards, commercial standards or intellectual standards, there will always be significant creators who don't give a hoot about standards at all.
The main thing you need to think about is process. Your process. Individual decisions cannot be taken from some list. They are the result of your previous moves, including your errors. They are also the result of your noted winnings. This is how you-as-a-person becomes you-as-an-artist.
Funnily, in youth, we are often rigid. We tend to think there is some secret, some Holy Grail that will have great art appear on our easels. We may even dream that fame and fortune will arise from this correctness. As we grow older, we realize just how limiting were our earlier conceptions. Art is something else. Art is fluid, transmutable, open ended, never complete, and never perfect. Art is an event.
PS: "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." (Scott Adams)
Esoterica: There are two kinds of students--recipe takers and recipe fighters. The former listen to the instructor, try to get it "right," and often succeed in doing so. The latter strike out on their own, pay the price of rugged individualism, and fail often. In art, it's all about failure. In art, the journey outshines the destination. In art, mistakes are golden.