I wanted to respond to Angela’s recent post on inspiration with a few thoughts of my own. I’m a little trepidacious about doing that because it’s her first real post here and I don’t want to give the impression of criticism. Nor do I intend to become a weird sort of troll by commenting on everything posted here on “my” blog. But I do want to contrast her ideas with my own. Essentially, she’s inspired me to respond.
My view of inspiration is a bit different than Angela’s. I agree that good paintings are largely about communicating emotional ideas. But I don’t find that having an active emotional experience as I am creating art is very helpful. Just as a writer can create an emotional story without needing to scream the words as she types them, the job of a painter is to decide what emotional response he wants to communicate and then figure out how to make a picture that accomplishes that effect in the viewer. Slamming paint onto the canvas doesn’t communicate passion to the viewer, it communicates sloppiness.
So to me the process is more intellectual. Say I am composing a still life, for example. I look for objects that mean something to me, such as an old pair of blue jeans. I think about whether that meaning is something that I can communicate in paint (lots of things can’t be expressed that way). I think about what kind of response I want in the viewer and how to accomplish that. What size and format? What composition? Low chroma, high chroma, or some combination? Do I care if it’s “pretty?” Analogous or complementary color scheme? Oil paint or some other medium? High finish or loose paint? Alla prima or multiple layers? These kinds of decisions are not easy to make in a fit of artistic passion, but they are critical to achieving communication with the person who will be looking at the painting. If it doesn’t speak to that person (or at least some people), I haven’t done my job.
Of course, this isn’t the only way to paint. Some people such as (apparently) Angela, work in a more intuitive fashion. Any route to a good painting is OK as far as I am concerned. But I personally don’t know how to make a good painting without putting a lot of thought into it.