I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Marco Island Historical Museum – I was relating my 46 years on Marco & Goodland to my exhibit of oil paintings at the time, South Florida: a Villager’s View – and was very pleased with the lively Q & A period that followed. There was a strong turn-out and the questions were all interesting and thoughtful.
There was a question from another artist asking if I had a favorite painting [from my own body of work] and I didn’t hesitate to say no, and further explain that it would be like picking a favorite child; sure some were more obedient than others, perhaps even more successful, but they all had their strengths and their own place in my heart. Every work of art I’ve created brings me back to the actual experience of creation, it’s very personal.
Interestingly, the artist was followed by a woman who asked if I had a painting that I thought unsuccessful; if I didn’t have a favorite, did I have a least favorite? I assured her that no, I would never send a painting ‘out there’ that I considered below my standards, that I wasn’t proud of.
Okay, that’s only partially true, and it is to this woman that I’d like to address today’s column by answering that question more completely.
While I have never exhibited a painting that I thought sub-par, I have placed paintings that have had poor receptions back upon my easel, taken a long, critical look at them and asked myself, what in the heck was I thinking? The better question would have been, what in the heck was I seeing? It’s true. Some paintings (a very few mind you) looked nothing like the experience I remember.
And there’s the rub, it’s possible for your mind’s eye to completely ignore your two good eyes. Imagination, the first tool in the box for the artful life, and desire can be a deadly mix. In short, it’s quite possible to see the finished project before it’s at all finished. You know your goal, you see yourself having reached your goal, there’s just that whole time-consuming thing that stands between you and your goal: the work.
We’ve all done it. Maybe you have an unfinished remodeling job that you no longer ‘see’ as unfinished. You clearly remember how bad it looked before, you remember time spent carefully working up a new design, and even more time implementing this design. You see the end so clearly that you mistakenly see yourself there. Ya-ay, you’re free to move on to the next big thing! (You love the next big thing.)
Then your mother-cousin-colleague-BFF-whoever comes to visit and you proudly reveal – voila, your unpainted trim, missing doorknobs, or very real hole in the ceiling! And you see it, with the help of someone else’s eyes, objectively, and you’re not at all done. And voila turns into phooey! In the blink of an eye!
But let us not be too hard on ourselves. A powerful imagination is a tremendous asset, even if it can occasionally lead us astray. So, you give your imagination a strong talking to, much like a parent to a naughty child. Do you see what you’ve done? Is this how you want us to get along? Look at this mess! And return to that next big thing a little more wary, a lot more patient, and once again in control of your imagination.
I should mention that in regards to fine art, the lack of positive attention does not make an unsuccessful piece of work. I have held paintings for years until I could introduce them to the perfect buyer, the buyer who simply had to have it, no question. That tenacity came from the belief that I had indeed accomplished what I set out to.
On the other hand, I recently retrieved a painting from another collection and there it was…a certain incompleteness, a certain what the heck was I seeing? It now sits on my secondary easel, patiently, a bit embarrassed, waiting for me to finish my current creation, and to return it to the glory I had once imagined.