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August 2010

Repetition: How do you know it isn't a bad habit?

Lately I've been repeating the same creative pattern.  It starts out with down time - "thinking time" - and then moves into 2 or 3 really bad paintings, followed by a "this isn't working" moment, and ends with a period of intense output of generally strong and exciting stuff.  Then back to the down time.  And the bad paintings.

For a long time I didn't realize how really bad the bad paintings were - all that time and effort and investment kind of thinking - but now I do, often enough to recognize it as an actual pattern.  Is this just a warming up period? Am I working out anything important? Or am I just mindlessly filling in shapes in a coloring book?

I have this book by Mary N. Balcomb, titled Sergei Bongart, and it's filled with Sergi-isms- capturing the distinct humor and directness of this Russian Master.  The one I've been hearing in my head lately is "Why you keep making same mistake?" It's as if an imaginary Bongart invaded my studio and is happily pointing out that I just spent four hours not really painting but indulging in some very bad habits. 

How do you know if what you are doing is part of your creative process or a habit you need to break?

As I see it, there has to be some critical thinking here - an attempt to mentor yourself when you don't have a mentor - or an imaginary Bongart - to offer a critique. 

You need to ask yourself a lot of questions.

Do I feel passionate about this or is it just fun to play with pretty colors?

Am I mimicking or exploring?  Mimicking is making duplicates of the same thing, and as Sergi is quoted as saying, "If you copy - you have two of same thing, who needs it?"  Exploring is looking for depth.

Is this something I want to do or have to do?  I often catch myself thinking I need a few more landscapes to flesh out a realism portfolio, but I'm not fully invested, emotionally, in landscapes at that moment.  If I just paint one because I "need" it there is no passion and no painting in the end, because I cut it off the stretchers and trash it.

Sometimes, though, I need to be well into a painting before I realize that a particular subject matter can't be painted in a style I am using, and I must rethink my approach.  Some compositional ideas achieve their emotional impact through technique, and - because I am still learning - the only way for me to discover this is through trial and error.  In such a case, artistic growth is the result.  And if there is no gained knowledge, then I have to seriously ask myself "Why you keep making same mistake..."