Friday, 7 August 2009

Thoughts on Passion

Regular readers of Boogie Street will, I'm sure, be aware that I have a tendency to start paintings which is not balanced in equal measure by a tendency to finish them. This blog is littered with unfinished "work in progress".

Why should this be? That's something I've been thinking about recently, because I've been wondering if settling on a reason for not completing work might lead to a degree of self-knowledge which could help in structuring a more focused approach to my work. Unfortunately, I suspect that the reasons are several and quite often interrelated.

First of all, I simply enjoy the early stages in a painting, when it's possible to be free in the application of paint and when the picture has countless possibilities within it.

Secondly, once the painting reaches the point of being almost done, I can see whether or not it's achieved any or all of its original potential. At that stage it's tempting to leave that one and take up a new challenge.

The problem with both of these is fairly obvious but is worth setting out here - I'm a professional artist who needs something to set out on his metaphorical stall. Less obviously perhaps, there is the belief (a belief I subscribe to) that the creative process isn't complete until the work has been seen by someone other than the creator.

What I've begun to consider is whether I may be going astray due to a willingness to tackle a subject merely because it looks like it would make a good picture.

In one of his interesting email newsletters ("Mere Interest Versus Passionate Interest"), creativity coach Eric Maisel explains how "many things interest me, but not to the same extent. Some are mere interests, others fuel brainstorms."

He goes on to argue that it's imperative for the artist "to learn to distinguish between those things that interest him and those things that really interest him" [my emphasis]. Failure to make that distinction can lead to a misguided attempt to build up something of interest into something we hope can become of passionate interest.

Looking back over my unfinished paintings, I can readily see that some of them arose out of an interest in the subject matter, but an interest that failed to rise above "mere interest". By contrast, my series of vaporetto paintings and the subsequent paintings of Prague trams came from something that really excited me.

When faced with the consideration of a new subject, is it possible to determine whether it really has that quality of excitement about it that will lead to passionate work? Maybe, but as Maisel says:

"..... we know from the history of human effort that it is entirely possible for a person to spend years on a project that seemed unmistakably rich a t first blush and that turned out to have been chosen for unfortunate reasons. At that moment of choosing, some other richer project may have seemed too arduous, some other richer project may have seemed commercially risky, some other, richer project may have seemed too vague to pursue. So the [artist] convinces himself that he is passionate about his [chosen project], and actually he isn't. That something grabs you does not mean that you should let yourself be grabbed."

What I need to do, I guess, is try decide which of those unfinished paintings are worth finishing at all. Many of them are. But there are those that under close scrutiny will fail to meet the "passionate about" test; of those, some will be worth finishing because the effort involved will be minimal enough to justify it in terms of having a painting available for sale. The rest can be consigned to the dustbin, or painted over.


Casey Klahn said...

This is a deep one, and worthy of dialogue.

You should see my boxes of unfinished pastels on paper - an embarrassing extravagance. Or, a testament to the process? I wonder.

Be that as it may, the dumpster awaits not far away. I am able to reclaim some papers, and more as I improve my abilities slowly. Also, my failures decrease with experience. You bring it around to passion, though.

I wonder if it isn't cutting too fine an edge to demand that we divine the level of passion always beforehand. I very much like what you say about favoring the beginning of the process.

Another possibility is to see an artist's whole corpus, rather than each individual painting. Is the body filled with passion (and one or two clunkers)?

I have been giving the axe to quite a few finished works. My wife the framer is distraught that I have axed some after the frames have been ordered!

More later.

Jean Spitzer said...

I'm definitely with you on the starts that don't necessarily result in a finish. But I comfort myself with the knowledge that canvases can be painted over (and, in my case, often are).

harrybell said...

Casey -- maybe it is too much to expect to be able to decide on the level of passion a subject may provide. But I do think a greater degree of consideration beforehand might show whether we're considering starting due to a superficial attraction. For my part, it might stop me from diversifying into areas which ultimately are not part of what my work is about.