Archive for January, 2013

The Enrichment of Problem Solving

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Every painting I undertake is an exercise in problem solving. Not only must I discover what I want to depict or express in a painting, but then I must decide the most effective way to compose the image. What format? Which medium? What color palette? How can I make it interesting and appealing? And the questions go on…

The more I paint, the easier it becomes to find answers to these and other questions that invariably arise. Over the years and stacks of paintings, a kind of encyclopedia of information has developed in my experiential memory. Every additional painting I work on supplements it. I can also draw on the information other artists and art historians share from the wealth of their own mental encyclopedias.

Sharing information I have learned does not deplete my own store but rather reinforces it, encouraging me to review the decisions I made in my earlier problem-solving efforts, why I made those decisions, how effective they were, and how the outcomes might have been improved. So when I teach others, my problem solving database continues to build on its own discoveries, enhancing my original experience and finding them multiplied as I help my students seek their own solutions. That’s one reason I love to teach. Another reason? I love to see others learn and become problem solvers, too.

Block Studies

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

When I was fresh out of college, I wanted to be a writer. I turned out quite a lot of mediocre writing. But when I finished a long project or wrote a particularly satisfying piece, I found it difficult to get back into writing again afterwards. It was called “writer’s block,” and it was caused largely by my fear of failure in any subsequent attempt.

block study

As an artist, if I allow myself time between painting projects, I seem to get a similar “artist’s block,” and for very much the same reasons. It’s intimidating to face a big blank expanse, whether it’s a computer screen awaiting an outflow of brilliant words and ideas or a paper or canvas awaiting its initial wash. Those blank expanses pose big scary questions like: Where will the ideas come from? How can I shape them into something worthwhile?

You see, painting develops almost magically. It just happens … as though my brush were a magic wand and the paint some kind of fairy dust. But I’m not a magician, and I don’t believe in magic, so for me, the fear is that it may never happen again. Yet, magic is one thing, blessing is another. And I do believe I’ve been blessed by God to develop the necessary skills to enjoy painting. If I fear, am I not trusting God but expressing that old “deadly sin” of hubris? Am I saying that it’s all of my own doing and that He’s not still working in me? I hope not! Intellectually, I know one piece has as much chance as any other to come out well, and yet, …

A “painting” starts out with certain expectations. “Studies,” on the other hand, don’t. They’re merely opportunities to explore and investigate possibilities, with no pressure, sense of commitment, or expectations. Which is why it’s sometimes better for me to think of new pieces in terms of “studies” rather than “paintings.” A study can be as finished or unfinished as I want to make it. If it comes out well, it may be a keeper. A painting. How ‘bout that!? Who’d have guessed? If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter; it was just a study, after all, a way to test an idea or develop a skill.

Kind of like life: Every day’s a chance to learn something new, to do something—maybe extraordinary, but probably not. So we try. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we just learn something in the attempt. There’s no shame in that. And progress is no longer blocked because there’s nothing there to fear.