On Painting

Painting Pictures vs. Painting Paintings

In a recent post I described a little bit in my own words from my own head how I believe good painters work and think. It was just my own formulated idea based on hours of lying awake thinking and years of looking at paintings and trying to get further along with my own work. I'm not doing any scientific research or reading any thick textbooks to come up with these things, just so you know.

Since that post a few days ago, I've been thinking more about the difference between painting a picture and painting a Painting. I've often said to myself (and to others, some of whom give me confused looks) that I want to stop painting pictures. There are things about painting that go much, much, much deeper than the very challenging endeavor of painting nice, or even interesting, or even spectacularly rendered pictures. Too often my efforts turn into trying to paint just that - a picture - and I'd like to stop it and get onto the more exciting business of painting Paintings.

I never really thought about the specifics of what I mean by wanting to stop painting pictures, other than some strong conviction that there is a very clear difference. But what are the elements I'm looking for that takes a painting beyond mere picture-making? To try to answer that for myself, I've come up with three things so far that really make me love a Painting, whether it's mine or anyone elses. I'm sure there are more I could think of, but today I came up with these three.

Dynamic Relational Cohesiveness.
That is a very fancy title, and I totally made it up. If there's already a word for this, and there probably is, please tell me, so I don't continue to make a fool of myself. I don't know what else to call this idea that all of the parts of the painting are in direct relationship with, to, or against one another. There is no separateness of the different parts that make up the Painting. They all hold together, whether they're fighting against each other antagonistically (juxtaposition) or existing together in sweet musical harmony. I've heard people say this before, that "the Painting holds together well," but I didn't know what it meant. It means avoiding painting things in bits and pieces. This relationship among parts is what also gives a Painting its rhythm. Pictures don't have rhythm. It's a tricky business. But painters of Paintings are very good at this.

John Dubrow - Winter Playground, 2011-13, Oil on linen, 46" x 58"

John Dubrow - Winter Playground, 2011-13, Oil on linen, 46" x 58"

The Emotional/Physical (or Mind/Body) Effect.
"A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art." -- Paul Cezanne. If there is no love for what one is painting, or if the work doesn't take the artist to some deeper plane of existence during the making, it will be evident by its blah-ness. It ends up looking like too-much-trying (contrived). I don't care what emotion the work evokes, and it may evoke different emotions for different people, and it may only ever evoke emotion in the artist and no other single person on the planet ever. But it has to be there in the making. And there needs also to be a physical response with the emotion (they are the same, after all), whether that be goosebumps, or a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach, or vague dread, or giddy elation, or chills. These emotional/physical responses aren't always immediately evident by the viewer. Sometimes it takes good long hard quiet looking. But if it's not there at all, and if it was never there in the making, it'll be a picture and not a Painting.

Ceret Landscape, Chaim Soutine
(So many paintings I want to put here!)

That's a small word, but it's a hugely important one! To me it is huge because I find this so very, very excruciatingly difficult to do. When I eventually get to the point where I can regularly take risks in my work... this is when I believe my truest paintings will happen. I know it because the few times I've managed to do it, that is when I have loved my painting. When I'm timid, I end up with a picture. This is the element that grabs me by the collar makes me fall in love with a Painting. The bold vulnerability involved in taking a risk, making some crazy mark, using some unexpected color, breaking the rules, or just following some hair-brained lead - this is what makes a painting so intriguing and brutally honest. And just like children are so good at calling out fakeness in people, most people can detect fakeness in art (which to me translates directly from being timid, the opposite of taking risks).

Joan Eardley (again) - a favorite bold, risk taker. She was taken with cancer at a young age and succumbed at 42. You can feel the urgency here.

There you have it. I will probably come back to this and add to it or change it. What I said previously about great painters not really knowing what the heck they're doing (otherwise they would be following a formula and not actually being Creative), I would like to expound upon a step further to say that great painters do know and understand the rules of good design (even if just so they can boldly break them), and they are also VERY good at the three things above. So good in fact, that they don't often need to think about it. What I mean to say is that I believe great painters are happier being uncomfortable in their work. They prefer not knowing where the painting will take them. This is what makes painting Paintings so exciting, and exactly why I want to keep working on getting past all this picture-painting to the much more invigorating business of Painting-painting.