Messy Gate Acrylic Painting

Better Messy than Dead

I decided to start anew–to strip away what I had been taught and to accept as true my own thinking

Georgia O’Keeffe

It boggles my mind that the messier I paint, the better my painting turns out.

I spent years trying to paint neatly and all I got were dead paintings. Now that I have stopped trying to ‘paint good’ and instead I paint intuitively and messily, my paintings are full of life and are interesting to look at.

At least I think so. I know not everyone will care to look at them. And that’s fine.

It’s hard to talk about whether a painting is ‘good,’ ‘better,’ ‘bad,’ or ‘rubbish.’ These are all subjective terms, the connotations of which are fraught with value judgements and other baggage.

Ultimately, however, despite all the art criticism and definitions one could bring to bear (see note below), it all really comes down to the eye of the beholder. Particularly the eye of the artist for whom the painting is an expression of whatever emotion or message she is hoping to convey.

So part of what an artist is supposed to understand about herself is what does she like in her own art and what is she trying to convey. Does she like smooth bands of tranquil color? Or does she like jagged, random lines sticking out in all directions? Does she prefer circles? Does she want every color in the paint aisle in every painting? Or does she prefer tonal variations of a single hue? Is this painting to be dark and moody or light and fluffy? (This list of questions can go on infinitely. These are insights I’ve gleaned from Louise Fletcher, her courses, and her online Art Tribe group.)

And there is no right or wrong answer. There is only this: what processes does the artist enjoy doing and does she feel those processes express the message she is putting into her painting.

When my paintings were neat and dead, I could see I was doing all the ‘right’ things, i.e. the standard techniques that were taught to beginners. I could capture light, shadow, form, temperature, and all the things. But I couldn’t like those paintings. They were just boring. And never good enough. And I got stuck in the trap of trying to get technically better and better. That impulse is misguided.

The paintings were probably boring because there was nothing of ‘me’ in them. I didn’t know how to make the transition between having the technical skills and how to put ‘me’ in the painting, or what message I want to convey.

And that’s the phase I’m in now – learning more and more to honor my intuition and put the paint on the panel in ways that make a living breathing painting that I find interesting to look at and conveys my thoughts and feelings. The messier the better, apparently.


Note: for a thorough analysis of what constitutes art, read this excellent book: The Art Instinct, by Denis Dutton.
And/or watch the video of his talk.

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