” It’s painful to think of the number of paintings that don’t work, not only my own, but also what I see in galleries and museums. Such failures may be adequately painted but they don’t sing. They’ve left the studio but they aren’t happy about it. It’s simple and inevitable: there’s work we artists do that doesn’t come together. And for each of us there’s only one solution to this problem. You just continue to make paintings, and you make more paintings, and then for no particular reason all of a sudden you start to click and all the pieces that you’ve been working with , the direction you’ve been perceiving “as if through a glass darkly” is now open and clear, in all its glory. We paint and everything falls into place. That expression of being “in the zone” expresses the experience perfectly. There is a momentum you’ve built up which was essential to this new work. If you had been waiting for inspiration, waiting for that flow to begin, it would have caught you too flat-footed to notice. It arrived out of the readiness that all the previous work had created in you . Regardless of how sluggish that process may have seemed at the time, things were lining up in preparation, ideas were formulating.
The making of art offers a poor example of efficiency at work. Yet all that practice and preparation makes us ready when for some reason everything gets lined up and we become as if conduits for the spirit. It shows in the result. the rest of the time we work to keep the channel open until things realign. Then, inexplicably and in exhilaration, everything goes right.
So much of our output seems destined to be merely preparation. It’s what makes the inevitable harsh judgment of our work when it’s not going well so counterproductive, particularly when we compare our struggles in the studio to someones else’s edited, presented gallery work. When we judge our output against someone else’s, we tend first to admire their mastery of their obsessions. We each have certain fascinations and because of that we excel at them. So we may notice a painter’s handling of reflections or the way they handle paint itself and think we cna never paint like that. And perhaps we may not. Because that’s their area,not ours: it holds them and they have wrestled with it and perfected it. Our own obsessions are so close to us we probably can’t see them. We’re blind to our own magic.
The lengths an artist will go to create a particular way of painting is also deceptive. We can think of Sargent who worked hard, scraping and repainting pieces, to get that effortless look of virtuosity. We can’t compare that with what we’ve just finished working on this morning Just because someone’s painting looks loose or facile doesn’t mean it was done quickly or effortlessly.