The doorway to defining your own artistic, expressive voice lies within yourself, and your own intuition. Intuition is “immediate understanding,” the direct apprehension of something without the conscious use of reasoning.
We’ve all asked, “How can I make my art more remarkable? How can I make it more creative, personal, and expressive? How can I keep from overworking it in my journey to make it right?” Here’s the point of this article, right up front: JUST DO IT! Sure, it’s oversimplified, and is borrowed from the sports industry. A workshop instructor wouldn’t get very far with students by pronouncing this at the outset, then not backing it up, or demonstrating how to “just do it.” At university, my own art education was based on the principles of Abstract Expressionism as the faculty taught them, and summed up by “do what you feel.” Even then I was asking, “Don’t I want to know more to be more?”
Knowing involves our reasoning powers, and the type and volume of information that we already know. But to apply only our knowledge in creating an artwork is to miss the opportunity to enjoy the process of discovery relating to events that happen along the way. Planning first, then constantly second-guessing whether one has chosen wisely during creation, can rob the artistic experience of enjoyment, impede or even block the flow of feeling, obliterate the goal to express what is most meaningful about the chosen subject, and doom a piece to an oily, overworked grave.
Picture yourself at a painting demonstration, or viewing other artists’ work on Facebook or Instagram. What are you looking for, or hoping for? The author and art critic Jed Perl has an insight into that psychology: “What an artist makes of painting is not so much a matter of freely choosing among a variety of options, as it is a matter of making the most of a few intuitions that are absolutely one’s own. Every time a painter paints, we want to see what those intuitions are.”
Fact is, we need both our intellect and our intuition throughout life, and in the creation of anything that might be termed artistic: for example, in dance, cooking, building, sculpture, and certainly painting. Intuition is the sister of reason and the mother of innovation. Even a man whose foremost abilities lay in dealing with numbers, did so creatively: Albert Einstein observed, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Dan Beck, a contemporary painter, carries this idea into art-creation: “Painting is a balancing act between opposite ideas—direct observation and instinct, control and spontaneity, even between the literal and symbolic.” Fritz Scholder, another artist, adds “You must walk the tightrope between Accident and Discipline. Accident by itself…so what? Discipline by itself is boring. By walking that tightrope and putting down something on a canvas coming from your guts, you have a chance of making marks that will live longer than you.” A noted plein air painter, Debra Huse, sums it all up with a workshop mantra, “Put it down and leave it alone.”
Fear is the foe of the creative process. Practice and repeated, focused work is its friend. How then, can I as an artist personally banish self-doubt, and create work that is more creative, more remarkable, more “me?”
Number One: I would do so much work that many decisions would become automatic. I would “know” what to do simply because I had done it so many times before. At that point, I begin to “feel” the process unfolding rather than think about it, analyze it, and/or break it down moment-by-moment. I would take risks…and I would draw and paint from life as much as possible. As John Burton advises, “Don’t be afraid to draw anything!” There may be some things to be afraid of in life, but painting isn’t one of them.
Number Two: I would trust in my instincts, based on the experience of practice. I would begin to rely on my own intuitions for direction, rather than worrying about what X or Y Famous Artist might do. After all, an artist’s goal in singing, acting, playing an instrument or painting is to do it in such a way that it is remarkable because it is unique, expressive and emotional. The sum of those intuitive decisions— which rely upon one’s God-given unique and personal characteristics—points one in the direction of a personal style, an expressive way of communicating, and most of all, an exciting way of working. Producing results becomes more fluid, more dynamic, and less time-consuming. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if every painting of yours seemed like it was painting itself?
Number Three: Of course, it’s not that easy. Just because someone throws paint at a canvas doesn’t make the result beautiful, meaningful, or even expressive. An artist needs to have an idea about what he/she is doing, or there is no significance. Salvador Dali achieved a high place in the roll call of Surrealism by combining elements that had previously not been seen in paintings. Picasso wondered what a three-dimensional object would look like if you could simultaneously see its multiple sides. James Whistler imagined how he could best communicate the essence of a thing by not fully describing it. Landscape paintings can inspire ideas about beauty and wonder–and our place in the universe–that are more intuitive than they are intellectual. As the poet Paul Bouret offered, “Ideas are to literature what light is to painting.” Ideas are not only generated in the mind, but in the deeper part of ourselves, the spirit.
Good design—great design—is a combination of intelligence and intuition, both before and during the creative process. But rather than continually interrogating yourself with “How do I know if what I am doing is right?,” try checking yourself with “Does this feel right to me?”
Then Just Do It.