Artistic facility without humanity is, at best, missing the mark. Fully embraced, it is soulless.
To choose the weak, yet honest stroke over the boldly slick one is a sign of creative integrity. Nothing is more risky - or thrilling – than painting from a place of naked vulnerability. If you’re not yourself, you’re nobody.
When you like something that has happened on your canvas, beware! Ask yourself, why do you like it? Are you willing to paint over it if it means pushing the rest of the painting forward? If not, and if your painting is not working, you may need to crush that pretender - that false idol! Be prepared to make the sacrifice. I have worked a painting for days only to realize that it was that one portion I held sacred which was keeping me from bringing the blessed thing to full resolution.
Most paintings fall into one of two categories. First, the representational, or work that is graphically literal - whether utilized symbolically, ironically, realistically, as cartoon, or otherwise. The second category is abstraction - art removed from representationalism, which adheres strictly to parameters of its own and cannot be characterized by any recognizable form. My favorite category, though, straddles the others, and consists of work derived from observation yet which distorts recognizable form through highly personal abstract language.
Value is subjective; clarity of purpose is priceless.
I look for personal, honest graphic language in art. I find this most profoundly in the work of the expressionists and post-impressionists, but also in a smattering of stand-alone artists throughout history. Their work, though unique, possesses a transcendent, metaphysical sense of the human condition. This overarching quality links them together, ahead of contextual or technical considerations. This expression of otherwise intangible realities is my primary interest.
I am uninterested in simply replicating “what I see.” I can’t think of anything less interesting in art. You've got a camera in your pocket - if you want something copied, use that. One’s sight is only a small portion of interpreting the world as it is; the best painters convey far beyond image alone. Van Gogh’s fields speak more to themes of existential crisis, loneliness, and despair than they do the look of wheat.
A blank canvas does not scare me. Repeating myself, failing to expand my art scares me. So, on the contrary, I see a blank canvas as an opportunity to destroy complacency and my fear. And since I love painting, a blank canvas also represents an exciting opportunity to have a hell of a good time while stretching out the limits of my world.
To me, painting is a life-affirming act of faith. I believe that God is uncreated, eternal penultimate consciousness. I believe that all which exist is held together through and within a metaphysical super-reality that is held together by God's Word. I believe that our being “made in God’s image” has little to do with physiology and everything to do with the unlikely miracle of our own consciousness mirroring our creator’s. We create because the one who created everything creates.
When I paint, I don’t worry about the color of your couch. If you want a nice painting, they are available at the mall. You can find one that will match your living room perfectly, and I won’t hold it against you.
I do not start out with a preconception of what the work will look like when finished. There are people who love to follow a plan, but that is not creativity. That is craftsmanship. Craftsmanship is always of some value, but some art is priceless. With risk comes reward!
Painting is language. You can use it to “speak” truthfully. You don’t need to find a gimmick. Anyone who tells you to do that in order to sell your work has missed the point. Be yourself and say something worthwhile.
I don’t think it is a good idea to hinge your entire future on getting a big break. You have to eat. So, get a job. Better yet, go to school and get a job. Even better, go to school for something that will allow you to help a bunch of people, get a job in that field, become good at it, and contribute to society in a way that provides for you and your family. Yes - have a family! Paint when you can. Don’t sacrifice everything for impractical fantasy. Sacrifice for substantive goals and real connection. If you’re a creative, you’ll find a way to make art anyway. And if you aren’t financially dependent on your work, then your work can risk being more profound.
If you have the courage to make art, then honor your courage - and the work and the people around you - and find the strength to share it. You don’t have to sell, but you have to show. We need to see your passion so that we can find our own. You could be the next Matisse, and what makes you think that you have a right to deprive the world of seeing the next Matisse? Let them decide.
Goya beat Picasso to the abstraction of the human figure by approximately 100 years. Braque beat him to cubism. Matisse beat him to everything else. And yet, Picasso is greater than all three. It was he that split the world in two, dividing the past and the future like a god. There is “Before Picasso”and “After Him.” His stature is earned.
When I paint, there are only two entities at the start: the subject and me. The subject suggests itself. I respond with my own suggestion. As the work develops, the work itself becomes an entity. That is why people name paintings – to identify that newly created entity. A painting that no longer needs me or the subject, but stands alone – that is a finished work.
The first time you picked up a crayon, I bet you didn’t look over your shoulder. I bet, like most kids do, you jumped right in and put wax to paper. Chances are there were not lines to stay between on that first sheet of paper. Chances are your lines were all that mattered to you. I bet you didn’t conceive what your work would be ahead of time. I bet you didn’t write a treatise on the symbolic significance of the work. I sure as hell bet you didn’t wonder how much money your drawing was worth. You just explored!
The process of developing a native, unique way of communicating through painting fascinates me. In other artists, I look for a deeply personal quality above all others. The artists that I admire not only develop their own stand-alone graphic language, but also use their language honestly.
The most satisfying painters develop an intangible metaphysical quality to their work, which I believe speaks to the transcendent. Art is the alchemic search for a way to express the invisible truth that permeates all existence.
I have little interest in predetermined paths. I try to surprise myself! I want to reject surface impressions and to see beyond simple observation. I strive to embrace the mysterious nature of the subject, the endless morphs of form and light, and the magic process of creation. I push for fluidity and rhythm. Immediacy, unjudging impulse are key. My work is not the kind of picture-making that predicts the outcome at the offset.
Money may fund a life comfortably, but it doesn’t make it worth living. I believe that we’re meant to create meaningful lives. To make bold strokes! And, to that end, each of us should embrace and exercise their own creative voice. In as much as we use our gifts to speak to one another truthfully, then we make manifest our divine call.
Embracing our incomplete condition opens the artist to possibility, learning, and advancement. It is a humble and honest approach which positions one to cope with the difficulty of life’s complexity. We must have the courage to obliterate our preconceptions occasionally, for the courage to acknowledge our not-knowing creates room for personal development.
Freedom of thought and the expression of one’s mind are essential acts of meaningful being. They are also the highest realization of evolutionary adaptation; conciousness is a unlikely miracle.
Limitation is not a curse. It is useful, functional even! Limitation creates parameters within which we can work. It defines what is and what is not. Limitation makes the discovery of truth possible. It gives us a starting point. It is the place we human entities can meet on the pathway to understanding each-other and living peaceably together. Limitation is the thing we have most in common.
We all operate within a structure of philosophical understanding, whether ill-conceived or well-considered. The hardest answers to the most serious questions are wrapped in so much apparent mystery and preconceived bias, that we end up trading the inconvenience of answering them for what works now. But the penultimate test of the value of one’s world view is the destruction of our own expectations on the universal altar of suffering, loss, and eventually death.
Emotions can help to motivate and direct a painting, but they must be controlled or they can derail the creative process. Paintings can be wild - and energy is key - but without elements of graphic clarity the art loses impact. Emotion can get in the way of painting the same way that it can get in the way of a good physical workout: it can keep you from getting off the couch, it can cause you to give up halfway to - or even a foot from - the finish line. So, you can’t rely on emotions to make art, in fact they often must be overcome.
Move with confidence. You have to trust that inner sense of direction, without overthinking. If you’re thinking, you’re planning and plotting - and that doesn’t work in my kind of painting, where the end result is always up for grabs. I’m chasing the unexpected stroke, the truly creative mark that disables my own expectations. That’s why I view facility as a liability, and overtly conscious acts as cheap solutions.
How do you know when a painting is done? It is hard to say, because while it is subjective, I “know” when I am done. I am continuously looking for the point where I can no longer add excitement or interest to the picture without losing ground. It is like having a long conversation with a good friend that eventually exhausts itself. It isn’t that I have achieved what I set out to do, it is that the painting itself simply does not need my input anymore.
I approach a painting with faith that I will ultimately get it to work. This was not always the case. When you’re learning the ropes as an artist, it takes a while to figure out what you do. I don’t mean a settling on a gimmick, but developing confidence in your own voice, your own graphic language. Your early period should be one of insecurity as you search it out. Research artists and art history. Experiment! You will become confident eventually. That’s good, because as your confidence grows, you will need it to help drive you past those moments when things fall apart while working on a picture.
All painting is derivative whether you want it to be or not. The door has been blown wide open in the last 150 years and there is nothing new under the sun. That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing left to paint. It does mean that there are no longer any rules left to break. At least, not in the West. And, what a great thing, as it means you can paint what you want, how you want, according to what interests you, according to how you see, think, and/or feel. And, it can be “art” and important and uniquely yours. Just think about Picasso doing his thing in the middle of the 15th century! He would have been condemned as a witch and beheaded. We’ve got real progress here, and if there is an inevitable tie back to one trailblazer or another, so much the better for us all. We should thank our lucky stars for them and get busy.