The case for visualization

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Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Stephanie Quinn of Dallas, Texas wrote, “Athletes are taught to visualize winning and to set goals. Often, when I visualize my finished product and set out to work on a piece, it doesn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. Is there a way to bring these two points — the process and the visualized expectations — together so that there is less disappointment?”

Thanks, Stephanie. This is a terrific question. Fact is, in our game, a lot of prior visualization and painterly goal-setting are not always good for our art. Sure, you can visualize painting a show, or the exploration of a subject, or even the Lamborghini you’re going to buy with the proceeds, but you don’t want to be too accurate in your preconception of your art.

Here’s why: From the evolved Impressionists to the greats of today, the most effective art-making processes follow the evolution of the works themselves. Process trumps plans. That’s why our job is called “creative.” One needs to beware of too much prior visualization. It is the inflicting of mind on an act that is ideally the progressive work of eyes and hands.

It’s been my experience when artists switch from carrying out prior visualizations to a more open-minded experience of exploration and minute-by-minute adjustment, quality goes up.

Rather than proscribing a recipe, think of your art as a dynamic event. Know that the safe guide of visualization can also be a choking straightjacket. Planning is great, but you need to get into improvisation mode. Your mind is a tyrant. It can only be subverted by the persistence of your eyes, your intuition and your heart. An exciting trip of discovery is one that keeps you coming back for more.

Further, the problem with comparing art to sport is that the latter lives within an interminable romance with numbers. Distances, times, goals and even errors are measured and traced with alarming accuracy. Numbers define athletic success. Art, on the other hand, is more arbitrary. Prowess is often a matter of opinion. As the goals and values of art are difficult to quantify, art needs to be seen as a personal, private activity where the joy is in the doing.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “The mind stands in the way of the eye.” (Stained glass pioneer Arthur Stern)

Esoterica: This is just one more reason why preparatory roughs can be dangerous. If you expend too much energy on comps, particularly if somebody like you approves them, they can lock you in. Further, you may leave out the very flourishes that your final may need. I believe in “rough, rough, roughs.” That way you’re not too committed and you can jump into your venture with gusto, having not yet solved all of its problems. “Vision is not enough,” said the great playwright Vaclav Havel. “It must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.”

 


Take a break
by Jim Tubb, Waterloo, ON, Canada
 

I always tell people that when you are painting and start thinking too much about where you are going it is time to take a break from the particular piece because it probably means you are labouring and the process has frozen and the creative is gone. Later one can return and go deep again and work freely.



There are 6 comments for Take a break by Jim Tubb

From: Patricia Peterson — May 25, 2010

Stepping away from a painting for minutes or hours is as important as acts of execution. In fact it is one in the same. A painting from the first instant is a life of its own that must be honored and respected. The conversation begins and continues back and forth until there is nothing more to be said. As we have inner dialog and conversations with those around us or respond to an immediate situation, we do so with each work of art. Anything else is interrupting what the other has to tell us. Listening is more important than talking because we know what we have to say but cannot imagine what we hear when we truly stop to listen with our heart to what is being said.

From: Lorraine Agri — May 26, 2010

Keith I have only one suggestion for you. Bad art sells every day…look at your marketing plan.

From: lorraine agri — May 26, 2010

btw I like your paintings!!!

From: Pat — Jun 19, 2010

I agree with Lorraine…Marketing needs to be looked at, very interesting paintings, I like them also.

Find some positive, encouraging artists around you and meet with them. Be well, find peace, there is no waste in doing what you love.

From: Sandy Gildersleeve — Jun 21, 2010

Keith, My first thought when I saw your paintings was that they were beautiful and the problem must be marketing. You are a very talented artist.

From: Susan Blackwood — Aug 08, 2010

Keith, this is a very difficult time for artists all over the world to be painting. The economy is our worst enemy and has been for several years now. You have a painting “Buffalo River” 12 x 16 that is a killer. If you can paint like that, you can definitely have a good career. I agree with all of the above, it must be your marketing. We have to wear many hats, especially right now. Step out there in unusual spot, don’t be discouraged. Enjoy the creative process of promoting your paintings. And when you paint… this is the time to turn inward and paint for your heart and no one else’s. Be strong!

 


Process trumps plans
by Debbie Baer, Hunlock Creek, PA, USA
 

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“Willie”
original painting
by Debbie Baer

Quote: “Process trumps plans.” This is something that I dealt with while working on the painting Willie. The idea for this work came from my husband and I spent months tossing it around in my head before finally gathering up some references (the model for the hand was my husband) and putting the initial sketches on canvas. I had a very clear visual on how I would execute everything — except the face in smoke. I decided to just start painting. The process itself is what developed the finished product. After all, you know what they say about the best laid plans.

 

 


New solutions
by Carl Erickson, Stillwater, MN, USA
 

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oval vases
by Carl Erickson

Visualizing a given, successful art gallery outcome is not my goal for visualizing. Visualizing success without visualizing the work needed seems cheap and destined for disaster. When I work on any studio project, especially new projects I try to visualize the steps needed to get to the outcome I am hoping for. Regardless of the medium I may be working in, it helps me to see the steps and how they interrelate each affecting the next. Preparing the surface, affecting the color, changing the texture, building the structure, providing for additions. As the project is visualized I see where there are areas to grow and problems to work through further. Rather than impeding growth this allows me to focus on the unresolved areas, areas that are often the source of future growth. Meanwhile methods and techniques that have become almost automatic can be employed quickly and effectively while integrating them with the new solutions.

 


Visualizing the end result
by Marsha Elliott, Covington, OH, USA
 

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“Stretch”
watercolour painting
by Marsha Elliott

Too much visualization has oftentimes brought me disappointment when the finished painting wasn’t anything like I was hoping it would be and the masterpiece in my mind’s eye turned out to be nothing more than another piece to line the trash can. However, it doesn’t always work that way and I’m excited when what I’ve envisioned starts to develop with each brushstroke. Before I painted Behold the Lamb, I visualized the end result with thoughts running around in my head for days. I knew what I wanted, but not quite sure how to get it. I wanted my painting to be symbolic and to be presented in the most gentle, non-offensive way possible. Once I set my brush to work, everything flowed effortlessly and I feel I achieved what I was hoping for.

 


Deviating from your references
by Cathy Harville, Gambrills, MD, USA
 

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“From my Kayak”
acrylic painting
by Cathy Harville

I often use visualization, and now I can see how expectations can get me into trouble. For example, I am working on some sand in the foreground of a creek painting. I have a photo, and I know what I want it to look like, but it seems trite and predictable. Now I am thinking that perhaps I need to feel the sand, and create shadows that show the time of day, rather than get every footprint and paw print in place.

On a good note, I often deviate from my photos to the point that they are unrecognizable. I like it when that happens. I cringe when someone says, “The water looks so real, I touch it and feel wet.” I know that is a compliment, but that is not what I am going for. In the attached painting, From my Kayak III, the grasses have pink and red notes. You won’t find that in nature, but you will on my palette!

 


Projecting ‘passion for the paint’
by Nancy Bradford, Scottsboro, AL, USA
 

I like to use visualization when I sell my art work at an art show/sale. The night before, I decide in my mind what I will wear. I visualize myself in my booth/space with my paintings “framing” me. I see myself in my mind’s eye, meeting customers, making new friends, promoting my art with confidence, giving them my business card and engaging them in a discussion about art. By projecting my “passion for the paint” I drive my profession with commitment and enthusiasm.

 


Cave painter’s block?
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
 

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collage
by Peter Brown

I do not pre-visualize, nor do I visualize. I just make images, and when I am done, I can see them. The one thing I know about art is that the more I try to see in advance, the lamer are my results. My goal is to surprise myself. Otherwise, making art is a job! It is a product, and simply hack work. I detest the rationalizations, and the credos, and the check lists.

As I see it, we human beings were put on earth to adorn the cave walls and plant gardens. Both activities involve work, but I do not try to visualize the iris flower, nor the tulip. I do not pre-taste the cabbage, nor the artichoke. What help is my thinking? It is only the work that makes things happen. This is true on the cave wall and in the garden. We artists, we image makers are not special. We are human beings doing our human business. We have been doing our work for at least 35,000 years. Can you imagine a cave painter with artist’s block? I cannot. That is it for now.



There are 3 comments for Cave painter’s block? by Peter Brown

From: Peter Brown — May 25, 2010

The image above is a COLLAGE. PWB.

From: gardener — May 25, 2010

Interesting! I do visualize my flower garden as I plant it, and I do taste peas and strawberies when I prepare the soil for them. It takes all kinds!

From: Stephanie Vagvolgyi — May 25, 2010

Great sense of humour…

 


Surprise me
by Bobbo Goldberg, Orlando, FL, USA
 

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“Buried”
digital painting
by Bobbo Goldberg

I think it’s pretty simple. I’ve heard any work of art, in any form, described as a dialogue between the creator and the created. It’s a conversation, spontaneous, and there are two distinct voices. Who wants to go into a conversation knowing every word that will be said? Booooring. When I do my Distortraits, I’m usually waiting for it to surprise me and crack me up. That’s how I know I’m on the right track. But it has to surprise me.

I know some authors work from an outline, and some would rather throw themselves off a bridge, preferring to “let the characters reveal the story.” One noteworthy exception is film. Feature film production is both expensive and collaborative. Pre-planning is necessary. So early sketches evolve into storyboards, which become often complicated computer simulations of the final shots (called pre-viz), and though there is always some play, it’s not quite as free as when the conversation is just between you and the canvas. Anyway, my Distortraits are very good company, and make me laugh a lot, even the scary ones. They change frequently during the processes involved, and I usually have only a rough idea of where they’re going when we start “conversing.” I sure would hate to do them all by myself!



There is 1 comment for Surprise me by Bobbo Goldberg

From: Skip Van Lenten — May 25, 2010

I can say the same thing about playing the guitar. It is a relationship, and the give-and-take is not much different than it is in any other relationship.

www.shortnonfiction.com/harmony.htm

 

Veer off course
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
 

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“Rail Road Bridge”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

Visualizing is a hot buzz word these days. You should ‘visualize’ a big check and then presto, it arrives! You visualize a great painting and presto, you do it! It fits in with the philosophy of ‘attraction’ as put forth in the bestselling book, The Secret. You visualize all these positive results, and then you will ‘attract’ them to you. You can see why these ideas have gained so much traction in our results oriented culture. Visualizing is a lot quicker and easier than years of practice! Art is unlike sports in its lack of scientific predictability. You can do x-rays and measurements of an athlete’s body and measure his or her potential for many sports. Not so in painting. Many have attempted to use these corporate approaches to art production and marketing. Some succeed, especially in marketing. Goal setting can be very beneficial for often unfocussed artists. I happen to agree with Robert. Too much planning can rob a painting of its soul and excitement. If you have visualized and meditated on a sizzling grilled piece of steak, when it arrives it is rather a letdown. Science can ruin magic and spirit. Preliminary drawings box you in and encourage painting within the lines. It’s like following a navigator in your vehicle. Artists need to veer off course, to take side routes, to follow blind alleys, to make unscheduled U turns. We need to embrace serendipity. Art making is a messy business that defies the business models and empowerment fads of our era.



There are 3 comments for Veer off course by Paul deMarrais

From: Judith HeartSong — May 25, 2010

Serendipity is vital… we cannot possibly know everything we need in the moment that will lead us to the next great thought or idea. Amazing things happen by chance, but I also believe in manifesting… I like that word much more than visualizing, and believe that as artists we have to believe in the spark of magic.

Judith HeartSong

www.judithheartsong.com

From: Sandra Bos — May 25, 2010

spoken like a true artist. If paintings have their own entity, which they do, they will talk to you, if you learn to watch and listen.

If this wasn’t true, then why bother? One needs to strive for honesty and soul in one’s creative work.

Thanks Paul.

From: Rebecca Lasley — May 25, 2010

While I heartily agree with you about the dangers of overplanning, the cheap trick sort of visualizing you describe is about wishful thinking and has absolutely nothing to do with science. Real science never ruins magic and spirit, though it is merciless to the imposters. Real science enhances our ability to create magic and opens our eyes to the deeper understandings of the universe that inspires our art. And by the way, science also moves forward by side routes, blind alleys, serendipity, and passion.

 


Clearing your mind
by Joyce Morris
 

With my students I spend the first fifteen minutes of class removing any pre-conceived ideas from their heads. I also battle with their idea that paper is precious so each piece has to become a work of art. In my studio all they have to do is look around at all the works in progress: many of them torn into strips and rearranged to realize that even the messes can be redeemed by taking a different approach.

One way to clear their minds is to start with a large sheet of newsprint and a word suggestion, such as ‘falling water.’ I ask them to make a list of words associated with falling water and then to start at the top of the paper and draw the water getting to the bottom using as many impressions of their word list as possible. They are amazed with what they have done. That is the lesson. They don’t know what they’re capable of until they go with the flow. They forget what they thought they would paint and continue with the falling water. A lot of excitement compared to a flat lake with a strip of trees behind and a pale blue slab of sky.



There is 1 comment for Clearing your mind by Joyce Morris

From: Cyndie Katz — May 25, 2010

Cool idea! I love that!

 

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Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The case for visualization

 

 

From: Richard Smith — May 20, 2010

I work in two media. Smaller bronze cast figurative sculptures and glass work. Once the sculpture is created that’s pretty well it. After that it’s primarily just mold making, casting and finishing. There’s little room for change. With my glass work there’s always the unexpected, it’s like pottery, you never quite know what’s coming out of the kiln. When I’m putting glass work together I can fiddle with it right up to the point where it’s going into the kiln and even after it’s in there, if I wish. I must confess that as much as I like my bronzes, it’s the flexible nature of the glass work that really spins my wheels.

From: Coach — May 21, 2010

Athletes are trained to visualize the process, not the outcome. For painting, you can do the same. Visualizing standing on the podium with a gold medal on your neck doesn’t work. You can’t control how other racers will perform. But visualizing how you move your abs and legs to make your running more efficient, how you’ll move through each turn of a race — all of that can help. In painting, I’d wager that you could do the same. You could visualize yourself succeeding at the steps you work through to create correct proportions during the drawing stage of a realist painting. Not the finished painting, but rather, the stages in the process of making the painting.

From: Marlien (South Africa) — May 21, 2010

Hear hear! how true and good to be reminded! I can never predict the outcome of a painting, so many things are painted FOR me by the process itself. that’s why I love painting. what fun, if there’s no surprise in the outcome for yourself?

From: Darla — May 21, 2010

I have to visualize what I want to do in order to find a direction, a goal to travel toward. I have to think about what I want the painting to say. Lots of thumbnail sketches help me find a basis for the painting and work out potential problems. Usually, though, the paint and other media have as much to say about where we will actually end up as I do — and that’s the way I like it.

From: Steve Baker — May 21, 2010

Well Robert I’ve been reading these letters for several years now and I have found them interesting and usually I agree whole heartedly. This time however you are absolutely wrong. Visualization is a part of the planning process and has been so for many of the most creative artists in history. To suggest that Monet didn’t have a clear vision in his mind of the 250th water lily painting is to deny the truth that the man was an inveterate tinkerer who was constantly planning and puttering about with his paintings. Well… maybe it was all that planning and reworking that kept him from being creative.

From: melanie — May 21, 2010

I really enjoyed reading this letter. It really struck a chord with me, as I truly love the process of creating where I don’t always know where I’ll end up until I get there.

I tend to use this approach as a ‘freeing’ technique in order to get the juices flowing, and most often I end up with finished pieces that truly mirror my innermost feelings. Amazingly, it allows me to understand more about myself and my perceptions of the world around me. So much more exciting than a well executed design!

From: Dwight Williams — May 21, 2010

I’ve taught classes and workshops for years, and along that line, this may be your best letter ever!!

From: Suzette Fram — May 21, 2010

Thanks, Robert. Great letter on creativity, improvisation and the benefits of being ‘open’ to what will happen, rather than hemmed in by strict planning. Wonderful things can happen by staying open and in the moment.

From: Dick Nelson — May 21, 2010

Wish I had your gift of providing such a broad range of aesthetic and creative guidance. Best advice I know for those who believe in having the give and take of meaningful conversation with one’s work. How many theater goers would there be if they knew “Who Done It” before they bought the ticket?

From: Mary Kay — May 21, 2010

I’ve been “accused” of being too spontaneous and not planning ahead. My feelings have always been to give the muse room to grow!

From: Eveleen Power — May 21, 2010

In response to Stephanie Quinn of Dallas’ letter, “Athletes are taught to visualize winning and to set goals.” every single time I set out to paint something I get a different result to the image I was trying to capture. I used to get so frustrated and then eventually came to realize that the very fact I was trying to capture something was motivating me to paint in the first place. So if I didn’t want to capture something, I’d never have even begun to paint in the first place. So the important thing is that one paints – that’s the bigger picture .Sometimes instead of being disappointed with what I’ve captured I’m overawed at what the picture has evolved into, beyond my expectations, better than what I visualized originally and seems magical and gives me great joy!

From: Alan Soffer — May 21, 2010

This subject raises the question whether it is prudent to work from photos in a traditional manner. Likewise, working from a series of studies, laying in a precise drawing, doing an under-painting, which are all tried and true methods can be very stifling. Us abstract expressionists don’t suffer from these tendencies. Yet, we have to struggle with problems of creating some sort of logic and organization out of the chaos. Anyhow, I was somewhat surprised to hear your position jive with mine on this, and also very heartened by it.

From: Carol Lavoie — May 21, 2010

I do go through a process in which I need to sit for a while, sometimes a day or more, looking carefully at what I see that I want to paint (could be the photo I took or just the images in my head). Then I get that AhA! moment when I know that I can place it on the canvas in a manner that I wish and see it ‘done’, knowing that I can do it!

From: Claudia Roulier — May 21, 2010

Stephanie needs to visualize a successful end product and leave the details out, if she wants to use that method.

From: Edna V.Hildebrandt — May 21, 2010

I think there is a case for visualization at the outset of a painting.The choice of color and how they can enhance it,perspective and the mood or atmosphere an artist like to portray .Once you have your composition and you have started painting the painting tends to come alive and as you go it reveals itself as it evolves and you get more enthused and inspired.The challenges as you go along presents themselves and the more creative one becomes.I think something ethereal evolves from the painting.

From: John Berry — May 21, 2010

I have finished reading “The case for visualization”, and agree with most of what you have said. It has also brought this question to mind, and hopefully your “none-to-idle” mind can shed some light. Here goes. I studying the Group of Seven, many of those “masters” drew or painting fantastic “roughs” that then were turned into even better masterpieces, does this not counter your case for less visualization? Why did it work for them, but not usually for us?

From: Ernst Lurker — May 21, 2010
From: Sabiston — May 21, 2010

Just before taking up my paint brushes early this a.m. I read your comments on creativity and letting the “plan go”. Very lucky for me — just what I needed to let the process carry me and not stubbornly keep referring to my vision.

From: Cyril Lecuyer — May 21, 2010

Yes, that is a good point.

One trick is to:

DON’T wait for it to happen,

DO NOT even wish for it to happen, but rather,

JUST LET IT HAPPEN.

Students often asked me then how do we do it: The answer is easy – When we do the right things, progress will follow.

From: Dan Cooper — May 21, 2010

Process vs Visualization. Seems like a line has been drawn. There is no correct way for everyone of course. We all have our own steps that have been discovered as we grow.

I prefer extreme visualization, but will allow for improvements in my composition as the brush and paint become alive. Roughs get in my way. However many venerable artists have been known for copious amounts of prep work.

Unfortunately, too many times I see young artists taught by instructors who emphasize process to the point that there’s an awful lot of art lacking in composition, values, figurative skill, and thought.

From: Catharine Compston — May 21, 2010

I’ve been trying to figure out why I like only some of my paintings, and had recently decided it was because the best ones came out as part of a process that involved a sort of loosening up of both mind and hand. The result of losing yourself in the work without planning ahead too much is a less tight, less structured, less overworked piece. I still sometimes overwork them, but when I do just let things hum along, working back and forth in different parts of the painting rather than getting the minutiae to be ‘perfect’, I like the end product much more.

From: Linda Saccoccio — May 21, 2010
From: Lynd — May 23, 2010

You can give a group of artists a photo or still life set up and tell them to paint a picture of it. Every one will turn out differently.

The final product is in view (goal) during the whole process, but the nature of the artist is interpretation and it cannot be squashed no matter how distinct the “goal”. So whatever works for each one of us is right…pre-sketched, pre-planned and even copying…its the inner creativity that always dominates.

From: Wm. Kelly Bailey — May 23, 2010

I enjoyed your bit about visualization and as I read I couldn’t help but wonder if your line of reasoning might not also be of benefit for consideration by those (growing numbers of) artists who project and trace photographs and then proceed to mimic and copy the photograph down to the nth detail… that ubiquitous technique goes so far beyond visualization and ‘plans trumping process’ (the opposite of what you recommend) that it seems entirely enslaved and “uncreative” to me.

I have read articles in the usual art magazines where such art-technicians proudly claim to have “altered” their photo reference and tout how they have “taken liberties” with them… but then when you look at the resulting painting you can tell they blindly and blatantly traced it, slavishly copying the lense distortions and all. They aren’t even ‘creative’ enough to correct the tilting slant of buildings that look more ready to fall than the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Yet such examples of painted photo enlargements continue to win top awards in juried competitions. Some are so tediously done they look like paint-by-numbers pictures. I have even seen work displayed in some well known local galleries in which the artist had a photo image giclee-sprayed on the canvas and then she applied similar colored paint on top of most of the image areas and then exhibited the touched up giclees as original paintings. Technically, I guess they were… but where’s the creativity?

I’m not talking about art that is called “tight” or “careful” realism… many of my own pieces have been called that. I freehand draw or paint all my work, often from life… my careful work is a matter of personality and preference of style… I do not trace or blindly xerox-art-copy photos.

Is the art world and the modern art viewing public really so calloused to photographic image inundation that they cannot see the difference between such photo traced ‘paintings’ and heartfelt freehand work that responds to the process and ever-changing painted image “on the fly”? Isn’t that more of a skilled ‘craft’ than art?

(Or have I inadvertently been sucked into the downward swirling vortex circling the drain that is the age old debate about art versus illustration? Would “plans trumping process” workers be “illustrators” rather than “artists”?)

From: Susan Avishai — May 23, 2010

The move from product to process came for me when I left realism for abstraction. The former was starting to feel like a 5-hour drive from Montreal to Toronto along the 401: a long flat road, the point being to get there. Abstraction now feels like hopping on a bike with no idea of where I’m going to end up, with an ability to veer off onto side paths to investigate anything that captures me. I’m so much happier! I find the viewers of my work can go places too, instead of only where I’ve been!

From: Marylou Fenton — May 23, 2010

I believe there’s a happy medium between too much planning and too much spontineity. Going back beyond the impressionists to the old masters for a guide, if an artist is at all a painter of realism, whether impressionistic or classic, a nod to the masters might help. That is, their [the masters’]adherence to design, perspective and geometric proportions. Their canvases adhered to a strict division of space, geometrically apportioned, and they certainly planned the colors, their balance of values and so much more — including the importance of focal point. However, they, of course, made many changes, as we can see in X-rays of many of their paintings.

Today, probably the ideal is to balance the discipline of the Old Masters with the freedom of the Impressionists.

Baltimore, MD

From: James R. Vondracek — May 23, 2010

As an Artist and Past athlete. My visualization was more on the techniques of the sport rather than the win itself. If you could perform the techniques correctly, often the win came as your reward. I see such close similarities in art. If you visualize the techniques of painting, “How to Paint” chances are the whole painting will come together better in the long Run. The only way to achieve a great performance is to practice it over and over until thought itself leaves the stage. The practice develops confidence and with it comes the ability to remember and perform your techniques at the correct time and place, thus conquering the feeling of fear and disappointment. The result is producing some of your finest works of Art ever.

I always wanted to win, but when I didn’t it always taught me something new. Always my mistakes seemed to come in first. They showed me where I could have done better. From them, I knew just what to practice on in order to achieve my goals. My painting works in the same manner.As long as you start the race/painting it doesn’t matter where you finish in the art game as long as you have something to show for it at the finish line.

“The Mind tells the eye’s to open and what to look at and touch. They can’t get in the way. They are the way.” JRV

From: Ken Paul — May 23, 2010

Thanks again, Robert. That was worth a chuckle or three. I always read your posts with interest, but imagine that you would never have time to process all the responses you probably get, so I seldom write back. Largely because we are in the same age groupfellow creatures of our time and experience it shouldn’t

be surprising that we have a fair bit of overlap in points of view. I usually resonate with your musings.

The bit that jumped out at me in this text — looking at oneself in a mirror for an extended time is something I have also encountered in a quite different context from either art or psychology per se. Namely, mysticism. It’s said that some people have even found

irreversible gnostic awakenings (aka: enlightenment, although that term carries certain baggage that can mislead) from looking at their own reflections and suddenly/directly comprehending the illusory guises in which most folks generally see themselves, based on a lifetime of conditioning. The false self (small s) is said to drop away completely and permanently. (I have not had this happen to myself but know a few people who have undergone it.)

One could also go off on a tangent following the idea that one’s artwork can be seen as a kind of reflection of her/himself: art vis-a-vis identity: “I AM my work, my work is ME,” and so on. But that could become too large a topic for this forum.

Selflessness, in one form/degree or other, seems to be a common underlying theme in all the great spiritual traditions. Almost to a man/woman, the great mystics and seers seem to concur that an individual self does not even exist. Unsurprisingly this isn’t a

notion likely to gladden the hearts and minds of most artists in Western culture, given that so much of our training and other acculturation (schools and institutions in general) emphasize the individual’s personality and vision. When I was in art school

back in the late 1950s, everyone was urged to find their own creative voice or “style.” Hardly anyone even thought to question this at the time because of the general cultural inertia all around us. But in recent years, trans-personal phenomena have been coming to the fore and not just in art, though artists have often been the most conspicuous egotists, haha.

So who IS the artist? We have all experienced that ego-free “flow” (aka: peak experience, et al) that can kick in when we are totally caught up in the creative process. There are occasions when who we think we are, and what time of day or night it is, or whether we’ve remembered to eat dinner or not, what’s going on all around us, etc., all fade from consciousness as the art itself

seems to take command of our psyche. Only the most hardened control-bent types appear to find this to be other than a blissful state. Your little gem of an mini-e-zine sometimes refers to this.

But for most of us the ego is prone to jump in there and claim the credit for happy results. Or if things go badly, Mr/Ms Ego is just as ready to step into the breach and flog itself unmercifully for the work’s shortcomings, as though its main agenda is something like “Hey, don’t ignore me, here! I’ll even play the goat if that’s what it takes!” I suspect that this dynamic is afoot when artists report having a love/hate dance with their creativity.

Most of us have probably had an unexpected encounter with a mirror or TV monitor in a store, getting an unguarded, unvarnished, un-posed view of ourselves. There are also pictures of us that we don’t especially like because they conflict with how we see ourselves. Churchill’s public denunciation of Graham Sutherland’s powerful portrait of him is one famous case in point. I have tried looking at myself in a mirror for an extended time, and have found the experience to be akin to that of repeating some word over and over and over until its meaning starts to frazzle at the edges,or sometimes to evaporate completely.

Images thus have the power to create and expand our existing ideas, yet they can also start to unravel them, depending on our interpretive viewpoints.

Eugene, OR, USA

From: Gavin Logan — May 23, 2010

Thanks, Ken Paul. Very interesting.

From: Lisa Engelbrecht — May 23, 2010

You’re awesome Robert. Keep on truckin’!

From: Judi Pedder — May 23, 2010

With regards to process, Toni Onley said “do not draw before you paint – it will restrict your brush” I believe in that, and have done some of my best work by taking a 1.5 Inch brush and “jumping in”, and then going the way the results on the paper dictate – and completely disregarding any preconceived plan or reference photos. Result? something free and refreshing, with nothing overworked.

From: Jennifer Moore — May 24, 2010

This is so true! Unless working on a commission, I try not to lock myself into specific outcomes. Instead, I keep in mind the “feel” or “vibe” or theme I want to express and go from there.

Great post! Love this newsletter!

From: Gloria Lee — May 24, 2010

It looks to me like Keith has not applied to the appropriate people. Some of the work would sell to people who need illustrators. Some of the work might belong in galleries in the West or Southwest or to landscape outlets. He needs someone to show him how to market and where. Maybe he needs a cohesive body of work that all hangs together with a theme for example.

From: Dereka Ogden — May 24, 2010

Steve Wright should be proud of his paintings. They are very professional and interesting. He should maybe consider that there are thousands or millions of artists all producing work and not enough walls to hang them on. Good luck with sales.

From: Ronnie Maziarek — May 24, 2010

I agree with Gloria Lee. Keith, your styles, while well done, are inconsistent, as if you’re still trying to find your ‘zone’. When that happens, I think your work will find recognition because there’s no doubt you have talent, and your letter proves you have desire. Why else would you be so dejected?

Also, know you’re not alone in your feeling of being alone and/or unsupported. While it’s unfortunate your wife doesn’t share in your devotion to your work, it’s not unusual. There are few of us that haven’t encountered this. Perhaps she feels excluded from this part of your life. Your illustrative work is very strong, maybe she could model for you, or help organize an exhibit with other artists in your area.

All I know is art is who we are, you, me, Robert, and every one else who loves this newsletter. You’re part of a large community of like minded souls. When you reach out to us, as you did with your letter, we’ll catch you…we may need you to do the same for us sometime!

Naperville, IL. USA

From: Betty Leonor — May 25, 2010

I am so happy to have read this post. For some time now I have wondered if the way I approach my work lacks the discipline and patience so many other artist have. I am self-taught and I have watched and listened to how others work and the series of steps they take before starting a painting. And they have always blown me away. How lazy and untrained I must be. I had a lady recently ask to buy a painting that was already sold… and when I informed her that it wasn’t available, she requested to buy any of the sketches of that painting which I must certainly still have around. Huh? She must be kidding me. I had to tell her that those were also not available. I was afraid to admit that there weren’t any sketches of my work lying around in my studio… because none were ever made. The charcoal or pencil drawings I have attempted to turn into paintings have remained just that… drawings or studies. They have never made it to the canvas. And being so aware of this pattern, when I have something valid to express, I keep the vision in my head, get a model, find the setting, get props, take a few reference shots, and begin right on the canvas. I fear losing interest if I start playing with it on paper, or any other medium. The painting process of bringing to life something I envision without a clue of how it would turn out to be is what fascinates me and drives me to paint. That curiosity of the unknown end result is my fuel. Yes, with this unorthodox method of mine I have killed a few canvases… but even those didn’t take away the gratification of painting them.

From: Meg Wolfe — May 25, 2010

I make doodles in pencil, pen, or water crayon when I’m feeling too restless to sit at the easel. Lots of these doodles become starting points for a painting, but in no way predict it or structure it. The process of letting a painting evolve as an interaction between myself, the paint, and the canvas is still the wonderful and inexplicable mystery it would be without such a starting point.

From: Barrett Edwards — May 25, 2010

Good morning, Keith,

I was very moved by your letter, “Hopeless”, to Robert Genn. I immediately Googled your work…I like it! I ache for the pain you feel because you aren’t yet getting the fiscal or emotional support you need from your work — but please know you are NOT alone. It is what I consider “the artists’ condition”. My husband is an intellectual, a foreign affairs expert…. what he values is stuff of the mind. Creativity is “nice”….but not all that worthy of true respect. OK — that hurts, but here’s how I manage with it: OTHER ARTISTS. Although I am primarily solitary in my work, I have found tremendous joy, reinforcement and understanding from other artists. I have reached out to them—you have to–and even gotten seriously involved in several artists groups. All professionals, all serious, all suffering to a greater or lesser degree what I am going through. We network, we grouse about gallery issues, the economy, the lack of appreciation for “fine” art, the list is endless. Most of all, we are there for each other. Because NO ONE ELSE UNDERSTANDS.

So — Your work is good. I hope you will continue to seek effective help for your depression — it sounds serious — and I really, really hope you will reach out to other artists in your community, form artistic friendships, get active in their groups. They will lift you up. And you will soon know how “not alone” you are.

Best regards,

Barrett

From: Suzanne Helmick — May 25, 2010

I am quite taken with Keith Wright’s work. I would love to purchase Teddy Bear’s picnic. Is there a way for me to contact Keith? Thank you.

From: Gavin Calf — May 28, 2010

Hi Keith, If you can find a group who hires live models and join them if you haven’t already done so. Your work is quite “there” technically. You need some Viva. And ignore your wife on the matter if it is possible.

From: Robin d’Arcy Shillcock — May 30, 2010

How well put, your reply to Stephanie’s cry of frustration! Our mind produces images like beautiful women were protrayed in the movies of the 40s and 50s: soft-edged and lit by a benign late afternoon sun. We tend to see a planned painting on its own, removed from our other work, from the satisfying pieces and less than grand attempts tucked away in corners of the studio. Learning to live with disappointment is essential, it is part of what goads us on to do better next time. I’ve remarked that Americans have a great problem with disappointment, perhaps more so than others …maybe because they live in “God’s Own Country”? And wasn’t it a Yank who came up with the painting-by-numbers concept? Painting necessitates taking risks. It’s a bit literary, but I do like to say to students that painting ought to take on its own life. It takes the artist by the hand and may lead her or him down a different path than the one foreseen. It may be a journey or a very short trip. You the traveller must remain open to all possibilities, to the gems of chance that may be found by the roadside. Travel without fear of missing a turn-off or even of losing your way. You will get to where you want to be, but perhaps by a more circuitous route, and who knows what great truths about yourself and others you may glean. And, if none of those, you might still end up with a very satisfying painting.

From: Elizabeth O’Connor — May 30, 2010

I love Keith’s work! He has talent and anybody that would say his work is bad doesn’t know art. I think that he probably just needs a good approach to marketing his work. Seems it doesn’t matter how good or bad art is if the marketing is done right. I’ve seen work better than mine and worse than mine sell. Sometimes it’s a matter of pricing. If you price something too low then often it won’t sell. Weird how that works. I don’t believe Keith has wasted 30 years and he shouldn’t either!

 

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