“For a painter whose reputation is based in part on his systematic approach to serial imagery, his [Monet’s] sketchbooks offer a startling glimpse into another side of his artistic personality. If there is anything deliberate about these books, it is the very casualness with which he filled them in, throwing them open almost at random, continuing studies across the binding, and paying little attention to composing each page.
“… For many of the drawings, Monet held his sketchbooks vertically like a flip pad rather than horizontally like a book. … Monet did not recognize a primary orientation in his sketchbooks; to him they had no front or back, no up or down.”
James a Ganz and Richard Kendall, “The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings”, page 169
“The problem for me was that I willed my poetry at first. I had too much control. But in time the benevolences of metaphor and rhyme sent me down their rabbit holes, in new directions, so that my will—my intention—was sent hither and yon. And in that mix of intention and diversion, I could get a tiny inkling of things far beyond me.”
“Uncertainty involves unknown possible outcomes and thus unknowable probabilities. Risk involves known possible outcomes and probabilities that we can estimate. Risk is not especially scary, because it can be managed … Uncertainty, on the other hand, is scary, because it is not manageable: We can’t measure the likelihood and impacts of the unknowable. … distinguish between what can and can’t be known right now”
Risk of failure, risk of success, uncertainty as to which we will achieve in our next painting. What can’t be known before we’ve gone some way with a painting is which it’ll be, we just have to ride along with it.
“What’s the most common piece of advice you’re likely to receive for getting better at something? Try harder. Work harder. Put more effort in. Pay more attention to what you’re doing. Do more.
“Yet what do we experience when we are performing at our best? The exact opposite. Everything becomes effortless. We act without thinking or even giving ourselves time to think. We stop judging our actions as good or bad and observe them as they are. Colloquially, we call this being in the zone.”
When I’ve done something in a painting that I’m particularly pleased with (that “good bit”) and then try to do it again deliberately, I’ve learnt to expect it not to work. Nor the next attempt, as often as not. I’m trying too hard and am too desperate to get it right, to prove to myself it wasn’t a fluke.
It’s only by worrying less about a specific outcome happening right now and trusting myself that I did it once and thus probably, maybe, most likely, perhaps, definitely, at some point will do it again. It may feel as if came out of nowhere, but it didn’t. It came from everything done before, it was just one of those days when the ducks all line up rather than flying erratically.
“…the world is so in flux that our brains are filled with static and we can’t hear our own thoughts.
“…Novels pile up; they can seem like a nuisance, frivolous at best and at worst a self-indulgent way of avoiding a reality we’d rather not countenance. But it’s worth remembering that they are also the best technology we have for transmitting one person’s consciousness directly into another’s.
“Even if it seems unrealistic, or self-important, or just delusional, the act of writing implies that someone in the future will read what we’re currently in the process of writing. That future can only exist if we believe in it now.
Emily Gould, Literary Hub newsletter 9 April 2020
For novel/writing, substitute art/painting and drawing, music/playing and composing, etc.
“Art is about more than the creation of beauty; it demonstrates an enthusiasm for life, which is contagious.
“Spreading some of that enthusiasm around is the artist’s contribution to the world.” Christopher Gallego, Painting Perceptions interview, 1 November 2012
Infectious enthusiasm is the name of the game. Let’s spread it around, starting with ourselves.
[Edited 6 April 2020 to add: I wrote this Monday Motivator in January when I was writing ahead in anticipation of being at Higham Hall for my workshop. The words feel quite different today reading them whilst in covid-19 lockdown.]
The Pre-Raphaelites show us how beautiful detail can be, but used it with a strong focal point, leading us into a painting to gently discover more and more. Don’t give everything equal weight or importance, otherwise we don’t know where to start looking.
This painting by Millais is dominated by the blue dress and the orange stool. Large, striking shapes of strong colour that pull you in immediately, straight to the figure.
Your eye probably next went to her face, and then left towards the light rather than right into the shadow.
The dark in the top righthand corner and floorboards provide other reprieves from detail until you start looking more closely.
How many leaves do you count? Do they make you wonder where they came from, if there’s an open window to the left of the scene? Taking your mind outwidth the painting.
“Stevens likes to compare his creative process to that of a jazz musician: He thrives on improvisation.
“I make a mark, a shape, or an application and then respond to it, like how a jazz trio might improvise and respond to each other … I look for ways to repeat or vary the elements, gestures, patterns, or rhythms in the marks and textures.’”
Being able to improvise requires you to have a repertoire of marks and materials to pull from. Options, to put it succinctly.
It may appear to be pulled from thin air or imagination, but it’s acquired knowledge and experience mixed with impulse and openness to possibilities. Sometimes is discordant, sometimes harmonious. You’ve got to play to see where you allow yourself to be taken.