Monday, February 28, 2011

An Artist is Defined by the Reaction to Failure, not Success!

"What can be more tragic than to feel the boundlessness of the surrounding beauty and to be able to see in it its underlying mystery... and yet to be aware of your own inability to express these large feelings" - Isaak Levitan

In my previous post, I set a goal for myself for completing 2 more counties by the end of the month of February.  Obviously, it being the last day of the month, I failed to meet to that deadline.  I tried to stretch myself outside of my comfort zone and fell flat on my face!  It happens.  More than I'd like. 

In my opinion, art is all about striving for excellence and pushing one's own boundaries.  It's really like athletics in a way.  The more one trains, one expects to be able to perform at an ever increasing level of capability.  In reality, however, both in athletics and painting, capability tends to be a very non-linear thing.  Successes seem to come in leaps and bounds (and I refer to the successes that actually matter, the painting itself and not commericial)  and not a gradual, ever increasing climb to greater ability.  One of the most disheartening things can be to produce something that shows substantial growth and then be totally unable to reproduce whatever it was that made one piece a success shortly thereafter.  It's as if lightning strikes out of the clear blue sky but no rain falls to satiate the parched ground.

The wandering about that follows can be terribly frustrating.  It's like the batter who knows he's entering a slump, flailing away at every pitch, analyzing his every motion, making sure he approaches the plate the same every time, spits only at right angles to the wind, or whatever odd association he fancies might break it that day.  In my case, I tend to revert to old techniques that I may have abandoned or forgotten.  I sometimes work through those and realize why I did abandon them.  I may flail away at my usage of color or value or brush size and get overly analytical.  And I feel that itself is the cause of the slump: the analysis.  Just as the batter begins to scrutinze his swing or his stance and forgets how to feel the bat as it's weight tugs on the arms and shoulders and cracks the ball, the painter forgets to feel just how things should look, feel the reaction of the colors together.  Art is not analysis, art is instinct.

And if I could bottle that instinctive response, I'd be a millionaire.  We are our own worst enemies.  Human beings are a thinking animal and we set standards we cannot live to and goals beyond sight.  How can we not bear those things in our minds when we try to execute?  And yet, somehow, sometimes, someone manages to transcend self and the snares that our awareness sets in our path and does something wonderful.  What seperates a master from an accolyte?  At times, even a master may fail and an accolyte may best a master.  Is it, in fact, merely the way the master deals with failure?  After all, a master will have failed many hundreds or thousands of times more than a mere student and knows the territory of failure as intimately as the territory of success.

I have quoted above a man I consider a master and some of his misgivings at his own failure.  Below are some of his works.  It makes me wonder at the boundless beauty and underlying mystery he saw that he could not express.  Mighty it must have been!

The Watermill

Vladimirka Road



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