Creative Decisions by Committee…

I was working in my studio this week and began thinking about the series I’m currently exploring, including common themes between individual paintings and new areas for exploration. It’s always a bit perilous, not unlike walking through a mine field where one wrong step could end up blowing your legs off. OK, It’s really not THAT bad, but it DOES make you second guess yourself and take a circuitous path through the creative process. And in the end, it gets me thinking about what, and why, I make the art that I do.

The ideas that surface are diverse, and it’s interesting to consider where they come from. I find my thoughts bouncing between considering the subject matter, emotional impact, personal messaging, technique, current trends, format and media types, and overt vs intuitive content.  I ask myself random questions such as ‘why my color palette is so dark and muted’,  ‘does it matter how big I’m working?’, and am I hurting my career to be focusing on photographs as much as I am, when painting is viewed as being much more substantial?’. This collection of divergent voices begins to resemble a large stakeholders meeting in a business settings where multiple factions lobby for their individual interests; “What about the revenue deficit?” “Are we focusing on our core audience”, “Are we being too myopic/global in our approach?” In the end, if there’s not a strong leader with vision, the group will always pull the ship off course.

The ideas raised by my “group” tend to align themselves around a series of “if / then” statements:

  • IF self expression is central to art, then emotional impact and personal messaging are paramount concerns.
  • IF it’s important to be noticed and recognized for what you do, THEN trends, techniques, and media formats will be more important.
  • IF telling a story and delivering a message are important, THEN subject matter and an emphasis that’s more overt than intuitive will carry the day.

The problem of course is that most of us would identify with several of these statements, and they do tend to conflict with each other. When I was young I used to think that a great artist was someone who could deliver meaning on multiple levels, encompassing as many of these IF / THEN statements as possible. As I’m getting older, I’m starting to think that the recognized artists of our day are simply adept at ignoring entire areas of thought and aesthetic criticism, while focusing on a single thread.

I’m not sure everyone goes through this ‘creation by committee’ deluge, but I’ve come to accept it as part of my creative process. As the visionary leader, as well as the source of the divergent voices, I find I’m the self-imposed arbiter of myself.

To organize and facilitate this process I try to keep stacks of a few dozen smaller canvases at the ready to serve as sketchbooks, allowing me to quickly paint a phrase, image, or symbol that I can reconsider at a later time. The canvases range in size from 4″ x 4″ t0 8″ x 10″ and are an easy way to document fleeting ideas, as well as to keep me focused on core concepts and objectives.

I have a shelf that’s currently littered with paints sketched from drawings, small objects that have caught my eye, and words, such as “humble” and “cry”. Two days ago I sat down and painted the phrase:

What does it mean

to be true to yourself ?

…and I can’t stop thinking about it. This phrase resonates on so many levels that it’s almost unsettling. It’s helping me to focus on the core issues in my work, while deemphasizing or excluding the areas that are less important. (which assumes that focusing on core issues is important). I’m not going to elaborate on what the phrase might mean, as that would be different for everyone, but I will say that it’s given me a very clear focus this week.

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