For my final post of 2017, I thought I would offer additional musings under the heading of “The Art Life.” After a busy late summer and autumn, including a workshop in Italy and several here in Seattle, I was finally able to get back into the studio and do some more painting. Whenever I start to paint after being away from my practice for a while, I am always unpleasantly surprised. I look at what I’m doing and say, I’ve forgotten how to do this! I review the work I did just a few months earlier and wonder, How did I do that? Then I am reminded of the importance of momentum.
Painting is a process of moving energy, in the form of ideas, from one place (our creative vision) to another (our painting). The more regularly I work, the more my mind stays involved in the creative process, and the more those ideas keep flowing. Painting is like an endless question-and-answer session. Each stroke is followed by a question; the next stroke is the answer. And on a larger scale, each painting is like a conclusion that poses another question, What’s next? There’s an expression, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” Momentum is like that. Through momentum, I remain engaged in my own process long enough to hear the answers. If my efforts are intermittent, I lose momentum and I am less likely to hear the questions and answers that are so much a part of my process. We hear a similar refrain from artists in other disciplines, like writers and musicians.
Renowned violinist Jascha Heifetz, said, “The discipline of practice every day is essential. When I skip a day, I notice a difference in my playing. After two days, the critics notice, and after three days, so does the audience.”
Creativity and problem solving can also spring from inspiration — but inspiration is a more elusive than momentum. Sometimes the inspiration is there; sometimes it’s not. I have more control over my own momentum. I like what Chuck Close said: “Inspiration is for amateurs.” Painting is hard work, and if we wait for inspiration before we pick up our brushes, we may be waiting a long time.
As long as I keep going forward, as long as I maintain my momentum, then I’ve got a chance to keep the creative dialogue going. And if inspiration comes about as the result of that momentum, so much the better. I’ll hope for inspiration, but keep up the momentum.
Here’s to a creative and happy New Year. May yours be filled with new and exciting ideas — and lots of momentum!