Thursday, August 27, 2009

Figuring it all out

VERY interesting studio experience today.

I had spent a lot of time and energy over the past few months working on my blue series, and was becoming progressively less satisfied with it. The paintings as individuals were fine, but I had envisioned them in some kind of formal grouping, focusing on the way they would ultimately be displayed rather rather than how they looked one by one, and it just WASN’T working out.

Just now, I had the urge to grab white paint and squirt it on plain canvas. I ended up with two wonderful paintings that are everything I said I wasn’t going to do.

First, I had reasoned that people (i.e. collectors) like color, so I wanted to use an evocative color (in this case, blue). Second, I wanted my work to stand out among applicants to galleries and shows, so I wanted to incorporate dramatic contrasts of light and dark. And third, for practical reasons, I didn’t want to work bigger than will fit in my car, which is 50” x 30” (I measured between the wheel walls).

But today I had to let all that pragmatism go. I honestly felt like working in neutral quiet colors, on a huge canvas. And as soon as I did, as soon as I let go of my plan, EVERYTHING STARTED TO WORK!

I realized from this experience that I’ve been expecting myself to work linearly, whereas art-making is reflective of the artist as a person, and therefore cyclical in nature. I had come up with an idea for a series, and because it was a good idea (and I still think it was, logically), I was expecting to just bang the paintings out one by one. Wrong.

Furthermore, the two pieces I made today relate to a different series I was working on several years ago. And I looked at the new works just now and caught myself thinking, Oh no! When I display the ones I made today with the two-year-old paintings they are a natural fit with, people who have already seen those older paintings will think I haven’t been working on anything new and will judge that I’m not a “serious” artist because I’m not always doing brand new things.

Doesn’t this smack of that scene in “Gone With the Wind” when Scarlett can’t decide what to wear to the barbecue, because she’s going through every dress in her closet and thinking about how people will react to each one? Finally she just gives up (“Fiddle-dee-dee!”), decides to wear her favorite dress, and ends up having a great time at the party … until War is declared, but that’s another chapter.

In other words, I also realized from this experience that I’ve been allowing how I THINK other artists might judge me as an artist to influence how I work. And I further realized that part of the reason I’ve been trying to work in a linear way is that I’ve bought in to the gallery dogma that once a work is more than six months old, it’s OLD and passé and not worthy of exhibition.

My day has emphasized to me that we artists have to paint what WE want, and that others’ output is really irrelevant. Sorry, I know that goes against the philosophy of all those artist feedback groups, but I disagree with the idea that someone else knows better than you what you should paint.

And let me add that these fears of mine are based on my own inner paranoia, not from any actual negative or damaging feedback I’ve ever gotten. Except for a few dorky professors in art school, I have never had another artist give me bad or dishonest advice, or anything but kind and supportive words.

But I still think we have to be our own guides and follow our own muses, not anyone else’s ideas, or what we think or fear others’ ideas might be.


Anonymous said...

What an excellent post Catherine - your words ring so true for me. I am glad you had an epiphany (I think that is the word I need...).

David Russell said...

I so appreciate your "studio day experience". I have been a commercial photographer for 20 years, and struggled for the past year, wanting to shoot my own vision, but having to do what others payed me to shoot. So I recently quit, turned to art, and now am so enjoying doing what I want, and have discovered my own creativity that I did not even know was there. Thanks for sharing this on your blog.

Catherine Carter said...

I'm so glad you both connected to my experience. Epiphany is just the word. I believe that creativity is there in all of us, David.

Thank you for writing.

Diane McGregor said...

Found this blog through Rebecca Crowell's blog, and I'm thrilled to know about it. I love this post. I don't feel alone any more, knowing that another artist's thoughts are parallel to my own doubts, fears, concerns, and ultimately, the true reason for doing our work - our vision in the moment, without all the baggage. Thank you so much for sharing this!

Catherine Carter said...

Thank you for writing, Diane, I appreciate your kind words about my blog. I very much enjoyed your paintings on Rebecca's slide show! Actually, I liked all the artists on there -- she has good taste!