"Treeness" oil and cold wax on panel 7.5" x 8" Mary L. Moquin © 2019
Bring on the Gold
A very proficient artist posted a painting on Instagram. She lamented that she had hit a wall and just didn’t feel enthused anymore. She often painted very proficient pet portraits and super realistic still life’s. They are masterfully done. She didn’t know what direction to go and was tired of what she was doing. It happens. We spend so much time figuring out “how” to paint. We become absorbed with understanding all the technical details. We spend years mastering drawing, and then the idiosyncrasies of our chosen medium. But at some point, if you persevere and cover enough miles of canvas, you will figure out all those technique issues. You will have mastered the materials. But then what?
I asked her this question: if she knew that the next painting would be her last painting, what would she paint? What would she want to say as her final expression of what this life has been for her? I guarantee it wouldn’t be a portrait of her neighbor’s dog or another exquisitely rendered lemon. She agreed wholeheartedly and thanked me for making her think. I look forward to her next post.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with perfecting craft. It is imperative, poor craft will hinder expression because it can be a distraction to the viewer. Depending on how much painting you do in your life, you may never tire of striving to complete the perfect replica of the subject before you. If that is how you feel, this post isn’t for you, just keep on following your bliss. But, if you have reached a point where you no longer feel elated when you complete that perfectly executed copy of what is in front of you, then it’s time to re-evaluate what and why you are painting. Because the way to find meaning in your work, is to stop painting pictures of what things look like, and to start painting what things are.
To do this takes a little meditation and soul searching. Subject matter, the “what’ you are painting, can often serve as a metaphor for exploring something you have witnessed in your time on the planet. How can the marks you make, the colors you choose and the orchestration of all those details reveal something about the subject matter beyond what is immediately visible? What can you show me that I don’t already know? If what you see is all I get, then art has lost its power to communicate beyond the surface of appearance. So dig deeper. Experiment by choosing an adjective for your subject like silence, or frustration, stillness or transition. Hold that adjective in your consciousness when working. How does that influence the choices you make?
Tell me something I don’t already know, or remind me of something I’ve long forgotten. Show me something I haven’t already seen, but somehow I recognize. Bring all those finely honed skills with you, but let your spirit and intuition guide you. Trust that a little imperfection now and then might actually communicate more to me than a slick stroke. The choices you make don’t always have to be in the service of rendering what you see. Your marks can make invisible feelings visible. As artists, we are alchemists, bring on the gold!