At a recent soirée of old friends and colleagues there was a politician whose acquaintance I had made back in high school. He was a jerk then and, as far as I can see, he’s a jerk now. I found myself pleasantly moving around the room and not making eye contact with him. As a matter of fact, through the whole party I was blind to his existence. To my last Scotch I successfully avoided the renewal of our acquaintance.
A few days later, outdoors with friends in a complex and difficult environment, I realized I was doing the same thing with my painting. I disliked some areas in my work and avoided them. Other areas held my attention and kept me busy. Checking on my fellow painters, I was happy to note that some were stuck with the same sort of blind spots. This was a sophisticated “avoidance syndrome” and a previously unexplored mind trap, I thought, slipping into my irregular Freudian bonnet. It’s as if an area of the painting turns on you and alienates you. And you don’t see it properly because you don’t want to recognize it. For some of my fellow painters the background held their rapt attention while they neglected a difficult foreground. For some others, certain small areas around the painting became lost in the shuffle. For a few there was a big, blurred elephant. I figured the condition is probably caused by one’s experiences with previous successes and failures — parts that have previously given trouble.
How do you defeat the blind-spot syndrome? First, I rationalized, you need to accept that you will naturally favour some parts of your work more than others, and that’s okay. While your work is in progress, you need to move between confident, intuitive brushing and rational strategy. It takes both sides of your brain to find the blind spots. Ideally, let a few days pass before final decisions. When the time comes, cruise objectively as if through the eyes of another artist. The fixable blind spots will more readily appear. Leave the unfixable ones alone. A different workplace and lighting aid in this part of the process. If in your most lucid and confrontational moments your whole work strikes you as one big blind spot — bad design, bad composition, bad form, colour, stroking, etc. — and you find the condition persists through many consecutive efforts, you might give consideration to another profession such as politics or psychiatry.
PS: “I have the feeling that I’ve seen everything, but failed to notice the elephants.” (Anton Chekhov)
Esoterica: “Seeing is a gift that comes with practice,” says earth-lover and simplicity advocate Stephanie Mills. It seems to me that the evolved creative eye is capable of putting problematic patches aside in the full knowledge that a gentle return will be made when other items are further resolved. Learn to squint. In the words of Henri Cartier-Bresson, “One eye looks within, the other eye looks without.” Above all, be patient. “One looks, looks long,” said Joseph Campbell, “and the world comes in.”
This letter was originally published as “The blind spot” on September 13, 2011.
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“Made a sketch later on the cabin verandah, but it was impossible to keep up with the changes. Oh the difficulties of mountain art for too little genius.” (J. E. H. MacDonald)
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Creativity has always been my calling however I didn’t realize that it would be primarily art related, until later in my life. Passing on knowledge is also a natural aspect of who I am. For me teaching skills to others is both a continuous joy and a personal education.
I love to draw and to paint with watercolor, pastel and mixed media, but I am also intrigued by the process and challenges of printmaking.
To me, figures and busts in clay just seem to come alive by themselves, in their own three dimensional world.
My subject matter is quite varied overall, but my personal favorites are always faces and figures of all types.