Pursuing the Impossible

September 18, 2013

“The main problem with turning the world into language is that it’s, well, impossible.  The word is always less than the thing it is meant to represent.”
— Stephen Dobyns, Next Word, Better Word:  The Craft of Writing Poetry

Watercolor and pencil sketch of yarrow

Watercolor and pencil sketch of yarrow

I’m convinced that art is a worthy pursuit and that if I persist, if I practice painting on each of my days off from my paying job, then I will eventually become a good artist.  This may take years, thousands and thousands of little paintings, and I am okay with that.

Right now, I have many dissatisfactions with my work.  And if I read Dobyns correctly, I can expect to always be searching and reaching for improvements.  He says, ” . . . I also thought poetry was something from which I could always learn more.  It was a country whose boundaries were never fixed, that always seemed to expand.”

The challenges of painting are intrinsically interesting to me.  I seem to be the kind of person who needs to learn by doing, by reading and looking at others’ works, and then by trying again.  I need to learn slowly.  So far, I am largely self-taught.  So there is a danger that I am repeating bad habits.  Maybe someday I’ll take a painting class, but for now, as long as my dissatisfactions do not turn into discouragement, I need to struggle on my own, charged by hope.

to be imperfect
in all the ways
that keep you
— Alice Walker, from “Hope to Sin Only in the Service of Waking Up”

So when my paintings fall far short from the things they are meant to represent, I hope to stay hopeful and take up the brushes again.  I expect perfection to always elude me, but there is beauty in imperfections, too.




13 Responses to “Pursuing the Impossible”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    I’m reading each of these posts, but I’m struggling to get my own next post up, and “turning the world into words” is more difficult than usual. I’ll be back with comments once I get my post up!

  2. Sandy bessingpas Says:

    I l ove the painting of the yarrow..I love that plant, the aroma, the way it changes color throughout its life span, it even l oops good against the snow in the winter

  3. Chris Says:

    Art can never be perfect…what is perfect anyway? It’s all in the eye of the beholder…what could look like awful art to one, could look beautiful to another! We are never satisfied with our own work, it seems…The fact that you are creating something as often as you do and btw…it is quite beautiful…is perfect enough!

  4. camilla wells paynter Says:

    I agree with Chris. Perfectionism is a curse we must rid ourselves of in order to create our best work. What we are striving towards might always elude us to some extent, but it is helpful to remember that our goal is not perfection, but truth; not an exact replica of the real (one doesn’t even strive for that in photography), but to give voice to the spirit of a subject, to tell the story that is telling itself to, and through, us; to convey, not what we are looking at, but the sum of our experience of Seeing it.

    I believe this is true even of a classically trained atelier painter, but it is also true that not every spirit can be expressed in that particular way. Your way is also needed. You can, of course, apply your analytical faculties to hone your technical skills, and this is good; but it would be a mistake to rely on the latter at the expense, or to the disregard of your beautiful and mysterious “musicality.”

    Not knowing you, Rosemary, I made the assumption that you had or were working towards, a fine arts degree and that you were already working as a professional photographer. You have the skill. Never let anyone tell you what your art is “supposed” to be, least of all the insidious voices of deeply ingrained parental or cultural expectation. I write so much because you sound just like me. I could’ve written your post. So I want to say the same thing to you that I say to myself: take a class if it will help you, but do not let it burden you with more judgment and constraint. These things never produced a “good artist.”

    I love your yarrow sketch, its deceptively simple appearance, the composition. I especially like the faint pencil sketching in the background, adding depth and that “oh, I just doodled this in my sketchbook one day” look (oh, wait, is that the charm of the “imperfect”? :-)) Your watercolor sketches would make beautiful prints, cards, and illustrations.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Camilla, I am in agreement with everything you said so exquisitely. I see myself working slowing but steadily, and that is enough for now. I don’t articulate to myself the truth of what I attempt to paint, but I am working intuitively, so maybe I will discover the message or meaning as I work. I do know that I need to approach my work table with the right sort of attitude, slow and focused, for a more pleasing outcome. Sometimes I lose my momentum because my work schedule is so erratic. All the challenges are still interesting to me.

      Thanks for giving so much thought to your response.

      • camilla wells paynter Says:

        Thanks, Rosemary. I hope it didn’t sound pedantic. If it did, it’s only because I am lecturing myself in saying it. I think your intuitive way of working is exactly what produces the best art. The artist is like the Delphic Oracle, she goes into trance and the wisdom comes through her. The person (or people) for whom the message is intended comprehends it instinctively, the Oracle herself need not.

        I hope someday that I will be able to take a class, too. I would like to learn some skills that would help me execute my visions. I feel I will need to have achieved a certain level of confidence first, that my own visions will have to be strong enough that I will not use a formal setting as an opportunity for self-criticism and comparison to others, for becoming demoralized. If I reach that point, I will try to learn in that setting, when I am able to “take what I need and leave the rest.”

  5. Chris Says:

    Yes, Camilla explained what I was trying to say much more eloquently that I could…I’m not so sure about classes either…you have your own, unique, artistic style…why let someone else interpret that for you or try and change what you already do beautifully?

    • Rosemary Says:

      I hope my style keeps evolving and that I move onto more complex compositions — someday. If I get even one good idea from a book or from a class or from observing others at work, it’s all to the good, I think.

  6. Chris Says:

    That’s true and it’s always nice to meet other like minded folks in the art world…or any world for that matter! 🙂

  7. Renee Says:

    We are always our own worst critics. Your art is beautiful and like all artists works unique to the artist. I love your watercolors and your photos

  8. shoreacres Says:

    I was caught by this: “So far, I am largely self-taught. So there is a danger that I am repeating bad habits.”

    On the other hand, perhaps self-teaching means we don’t pick up others’ bad habits.

    When I began writing, about five years ago now, I joined a writers’ group. After three months, I quit. Why? Because I knew that I already was a better writer than many of them, and I didn’t want to turn into the writer than the others represented – market-driven, etc.

    To this day, I have dipped into only a handful of books about writing, and none of them are the how-to variety. I steer completely clear of writing blogs, and any others where I find people whining about how difficult it is to get past writers’ block.

    The way to learn how to write, I decided, was to write. So that’s what I do. Over and over and over and…. 😉

    • Rosemary Says:

      Writing and painting are mostly solitary pursuits, I find. The introvert in me sometimes resents giving up precious time to groups. I would think the telling question is whether you feel energized or depleted after a class or group gathering. If depleted, then do stop.

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