Sunday, September 30, 2007

Getting real

I just learned a big lesson in the studio.

I started out the way I always do, with a brilliant plan on how to proceed, then watching it fall apart, and finally being shown what I really need to be doing instead.

Last night I had painted some large sections of fabric, and my plan for this morning was to cut them into strips and paste them onto a number of sheets of paper that I had painted over the summer. It seemed like a great idea, and I strode down the stairs to my studio, excited and confident.

UGLY. I made three or four extremely ugly collages using this method, stubbornly plugging onward, until I finally admitted to myself that my perfect idea really sucked. I felt that familiar frustration welling up inside me, that art is never as easy as I expect it to be.

So I did what I always do in this situation: I just start flinging whatever is at hand onto a blank canvas, and it usually results in SOMETHING – whether successful, or bad, but a new direction – just SOMETHING.

I started ripping the ugly collages I had just made into tiny pieces like mosaic tesserae and gluing them onto the canvas, not worrying about whether they were making a “good” composition, or the shapes were matching, or anything. Just RIP, GLUE, RIP, GLUE. (And enjoying The Jam through my headphones.)

The resulting piece (similar in color to the one pictured above, but with smaller shapes and torn edges) is … pleasing. It’s not perfect. It’s not going to change art history. But you know what? I LIKE IT.

This experience taught me a lesson – this and reading over a publication by mixed greens before I went to bed last night. Mixed greens is a gallery/web site that shows and sells cutting-edge artwork. It’s artwork that’s trendy, witty, well-informed, and hip.

Now while I appreciated the works in that mixed greens booklet, I didn’t LOVE any of the work in there. Why is that? I wondered, as I flipped from one page to the next. It’s really cool work. The artists whose work is pictured inside are obviously sincere, hard-working, talented, well-educated people. Why don’t I have any desire to look at their work for more than a minute?

I think it’s because they seem to be TRYING TOO HARD. It’s like they are more concerned with impressing you, or appearing to be smart, rather than just being themselves and letting whatever happens on the page or canvas happen.

This is what I started out doing this morning. I tried really hard to be elegant and resourceful with my initial collage idea, and it totally bombed. But when I just followed my instincts, and started gluing at random, I made a decent painting. Again, this painting is not going to change the world. It’s not the best painting I ever made, and who knows, I might end up throwing it out someday.

But when I look at it, I enjoy it. It seems real. It seems natural. It seems honest. And that’s the kind of art that really means something to me.


Martha Marshall said...

Wow Catherine - thanks for introducing yourself. I love your paintings and your blog.

This subject brings to mind what one of my art professors used to always say: "Strive for honest painting."

It's difficult sometimes to strip away all the stuff that keeps us trying too hard. At least it is for me.

Catherine Carter said...

Martha, I totally agree with your professor -- "honest painting" honors both the artist AND the viewer. Thank you for the kind words on my work and blog!