Saturday, September 3, 2011

Trusting the Process

I am a big believer in process.  I am often far more focused on the process than an endpoint, as I find that it leads me to places I never could have imagined. The process requires a willingness to experiment, to risk and to embrace the unknown.  Not to mention a little patience and faith that interesting things will happen, but not necessarily on my schedule.  All of these are things I’ve had to learn and sometimes relearn.

Lately I have been thinking of process in many realms of my life.  When I am in the process of doing a painting I frequently take photographs of its progress.  When I run those images through a slideshow I can watch my painting materialize through all of its stages.  This exercise never fails to reinforce my appreciation for the creative process. I have learned that there are often very small changes that can make a dramatic change in an image.  At times the process can seem glacial.  When I first had the flexibility to focus more time on my artwork, I thought I’d be at the studio every day.  I soon realized that gestational time was as important as painting time.  Sometimes ideas on how to develop a painting occur to me when I’m driving or doing something totally unrelated to painting.  The diversion allows my subconscious to kick in.  I’ve written in these pages of a time that I painted over a painting in frustration only to discover that the partially hidden image spoke to me in a way that the original didn’t.  When I’m not satisfied with an image I have been known to glaze it with a wash of white or gold paint, often improving the image in ways I would not have expected.  Sometimes it takes enough dissatisfaction to take the very risks that could ruin the painting, if they don’t save it.  I have learned it is all part of the process.

I don’t think this fascination with process is a new thing for me. I still have boxes of old letters I wrote in high school and college.  I once knew someone who after he was forty got rid of all his correspondence, not wanting his private life to be too visible to others should something happen to him. Conversely I am enamored with the process of how we become who we are, some characteristics visible from the beginning, others gradually unveiled as we get more comfortable in our own skin.  I keep that record of correspondence because it reveals the “me of then” on the way to becoming the “me of now”.

When I speak publicly I often tell stories about my artwork as well as the story of how one series of work has led to the next and opened up new doors along the way.  That too is a process.  I once took an art class from Minnesota artist David Feinberg.  He said something that I’ve always remembered:  He told us that our second painting would be similar to the first, the third would be similar to the second, but the tenth would not be at all similar to the first.  He was of course speaking to the process by which each step influences the next until we look behind us with amazement at how far we’ve come, often to a very unanticipated place.

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