Saturday, May 23, 2015

New Work: Follow The Leader

Follow The Leader
Acrylic on wc paper image size 11" x 14"

The following observations are part of my thought process (and just my own opinion, applying only to me!) for making the above piece:

One of the main problems I am finding with being inspired by someone else's work (or of even copying it to learn) is that you have no idea what the person was thinking when they made that piece of art. Reproducing something from a purely visual standpoint isn't terribly difficult. But then what? Where is your own voice in this process?  In the absence of any real knowledge of what another person was thinking it's hard to know what to do next. You get stuck just copying.

Why mention this at all? It seems self evident and sort of like a dead end question. The potential to learn from asking is pretty strong though and here is my reasoning. Because you don't know what that artist was thinking (what skills or theories or plans they were using) you are free to interpret the construction of that work in whatever way you want. In other words, you can look at that person's work and think in your own terms, based on your own efforts and learning, what that artist may have been doing. You then could possibly have a new idea for your own work.

Take the above piece for example. For the past 5 months now I have been inspired by the work of Etel Adnan.  Her work speaks to me in a serious way. When I first viewed her paintings I thought to myself that here was a person painting exactly in the way that I wanted to paint-simple and uncomplicated but kind of complex also. With the exception of my palette knife pieces, my own work felt stiff and stilted and repetitive to me. How could I go on? I saw exactly what to do when I viewed this painter's work. Looser shapes, looser interpretations of the landscape and all of its attendant paraphernalia, plus color, color, color! I felt like I had been given permission to change. I started studying her color combinations but I had no idea what she was doing. None of the limited interviews that she has given over the years gave me any kind of a clue to her thought process. I couldn't figure out what all of her shapes referenced either. So I made it up and filled in the gaps! And this is what I alluded to above. In the absence of a solid explanation, I was free to take what I knew from my own studying and to guess and to come up with my own ideas. Kind of like making sourdough bread. You need a starter mixture right?

And I am still learning from her work and making things up. The whole process has helped me to look at my environment differently, to sketch differently and to think about color and design much more than I ever did before. It's been an invaluable experience so far. (If the woman had an email address I would send her a thank you note!)

A person can come at art making from many, many angles. All you have to do is find the right angle:)



  1. Another solid Libby painting!
    You hit on an important point that not many artists think of when they start copying a certain method included. I was guilty of it too early on. We start off painting what I call, "surface paintings"... meaning no sense of the artist themselves in it.It takes the miles on the brush and lots of experiments to develop the thoughts that lead up to the sourdough bread coming out of the oven!

  2. Julie,

    It's so true, really. I hadn't really considered what you could actually learn from copying other the obvious things such as color or surface handling or design. I now really think it's the absence of knowing what the artist was thinking that allows you, the learner, to fill in those gaps with your own thoughts. And you are so right. It tales a lot of thinking and practicing and experimenting to even begin to form any thoughts in the first place. There is so much more to art making than meets the eye!

    Thank you as always for the visit and comments. They are appreciated:)

  3. A very astute observation, Libby. You have to adapt someone else's methods and ideas to your own sensitivities, in order for it to be authentically you. But, usually that comes down the road a bit, AFTER the initial observations and studies. For many learners, myself included, it helps to spend some time working with the format as is before one can diverge and develop their own approach using, discarding, modifying or adapting what they see to what works for them. Your sourdough starter analogy is perfect!
    Your painting and title make me smile. After 32 years of teaching of primary students and walking in lines everywhere we go your red blocks remind me of that experience.

  4. Libby- I visited Etal Adnan's link. Wow I do see her influence on your work. Sometimes there are certain artists that make an impact on our art. It doesn't mean yours is not original or have a private meaning but the style or technique works for what we want to say. Love your simple interpretations of the landscape. Thank you for sharing your work and your art. Hugs!


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