In many of the books on art I’ve read the authors observe that the most successful art is where the sum is greater than the total of the parts. I’ve experienced it at times in my most successful works, where the individual details or the compilation of themes hold together in a compelling manner.
In the other instances, I’ve seen the flop of things, where in my mind I could take a jigsaw to a painting and chop out the one good spot and pitch the rest because it adds nothing to the visual dialog. That can be a brutal realization. In fact, many of those “failed” works ended up on a bonfire or in the trash. I’ve had some people quite upset with me for doing this, as they see it as some kind of raging impulse. But truth of it is that I have enough works roaming around out there that I find less than successful that after I’m gone I do not want to be thought of as representative of the best my work can be.
There was a powerful experience for me when I was still in college that prompted my willingness to burn the bad stuff.
There was a powerful experience for me when I was still in college that prompted my willingness to burn the bad stuff. My first painting teacher passed away when I was in my last couple of years of school. All the work I had seen of his was well-done, masterfully painted. He was a talented man.
But one day I was at a friends house and he showed me a sentimental snow scene, poorly done with a clumsily-drawn silhouette of a man fishing through a hole in a frozen lake. I asked the friend why in the world he had bought that piece at a garage sale. It couldn’t have been because he bought it for two dollars, for even at two bucks it was an awful piece.
He responded with a question, “Who do you think did the work?” I suddenly felt uncomfortable, I was REALLY hoping my art buddy hadn’t painted it because his other work was excellent. After what seemed like an eternal silence, he said,”Look at the signature.” In the bottom right hand corner was scrawled signature of my art professor. I just couldn’t believe it, and as I was trying to absorb this the friend told me he bought this to remind himself that he didn’t want work wandering around after his death that he would be embarrassed to take credit for when alive.
So this is that weird tightrope figuring out what you can live with being left behind. SOme of my paintings are out there that I’d like to have back so I can either get rid of them or fix them. Not many. But some.
Which brings me to todays post, I have three components of a painting coming together. I’ve never tired anything like this, but I am encouraged by how they seem to lay out in my thoughts. I’m combining two paintings and faux books. This is what I believed were necessary to speak the visuals I believe best elucidate my idea. It’s risky business and there’s a ways to go. I won’t know if this will work until I pull all three elements into the final piece. We’ll see if the sum is greater than the parts. That’s what keeps me willing to pound away at painting because “you never know what the tide will bring in.” (Cast Away)