The Laws of Nature

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Limits Yield Intensity

Limits Yield Intensity is the title of the twelfth principle in Roberts' book Creative Authenticity. The central thesis statement for this principle is: History has shown that art can give expression to soaring heights of feeling. But those works of art are carefully crafted on a foundation of simplification, form and limitation. The limits yield the intensity.

I'd like to elaborate on that idea by relating to you three experiences that led to my development as an artist:

Before I entered kindergarten, my mother encouraged me to draw and learn color theory through what many would consider to be limiting conditions. She wouldn't allow me to use a published coloring book in which you crayon between the lines. Rather, she handed me blank pieces of paper with a set of crayons and encouraged me to create my own designs. Additionally, she placed clear bottles of colored water on the windowsill so that I could layer them to create secondary and tertiary colors. Furthermore, both my father and mother admired my work and instilled in me the self-identity of "artist." So, with limited tangible materials I was able to advance in art beyond most other children my age. I'm not implying that I was the best artist in the neighborhood, but rather that I had a more intense experience with art at that age.

We weren't wealthy, so by the time I entered college as an fine arts major, I had to conserve cash in order to purchase the required materials for classes. I didn't have enough money to buy much, so I made do with what I had. To this day, I believe that this was a great benefit to me. Arriving at creative solutions with so little intensified my ability to find new creative solutions.

As an adult with greater resources, I've learned that purchasing the "latest" art materials and gadgets can lead to confusion. And, that expressing a myriad of ideas in a single painting is also confusing and ridiculously ineffective. So, I've had to impose limits: stick to one concept per painting, reduce the number of hues to help unify the work, question every element in my painting to see if it's even necessary, and so on. The point is to avoid confusion and ineffective painting by setting limits that intensify the quality of my work. Less is more can be a very useful adage!

Your thoughts??


Carolyn Abrams said...

hi kathy, i think your thoughts make great sense and showing us how you applied your frugalness to your artwork is also very helpful. Less is more. great sharing.

i have to admit and you will prob agree that having too much information and materials can definitely be very confusing and creates a handicap when it comes time to putting brush to canvas. I for one am trying to simplify my art as well as my life. Now there's a New Year's Resolution!

Four Seasons in a Life said...

Dear Katharine,

What impressed me about this post is the action your parents took by allowing you to be in control of what you drew and not colouring in the spaces. I feel that this was an incredible gift.

There is a fine balance when it comes to supplies and art tools and how one is making use of these. Some limitation is always good as it does force one to use imagination.

As to 'less is more' versus everything, including the kitchen sink, it is not always an easy task to know when the right balance has been obtained. So this part I leave to the unknown, the voice that lies within us, the one we should listen to more then we do.

Wishing you all the very best for 2010.

Mark Sheeky said...

I agree totally that limits can really help. If I get stuck and reach a dead end I'll often impose an arbitrary limit, like using only three colours. I'm sure every artist would identify with it.

Ask someone to paint a great picture and they might think for a day. Ask someone to paint a great picture of a rose and they might think for an hour. Ask them to paint a great picture of a rose in a vase with a candle and a curtain in the background, using only black and white paint, then, well, there's no thought needed!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy and Fellow Travelers to Kathy's Blog,

Another excellent post to read! Drawing and painting were central to my developing years too. I remember the shock I experienced when someone told me I had to draw inside the lines. I also remember the pleasure I experienced when I observed things for myself. I remember sitting in first grade, looking at someone in profile. A little light went on in my head that a person’s profile looks much like a parenthesis. I was delighted with the observation and how it improved my drawings in my minds eye.

I like your discussion about simplification. I think minimizing materials can open up ideas and improvisations. For me, perhaps it’s about learning to do more with less, and accepting less can be more!

I see some artist who thrive on materials and who can put lots of neat things together. They probably are great at assembling nice outfits too. It must be a need that works for them. I love their work and am learning not to feel the need to imitate!

Unknown said...

Hi Carolyn - Simplification makes everything better ... even life! Thanks for your great comments :)

Hi Egmont - Yes, my parents gave me an incredible gift! I'm very grateful. Thanks for reminding us about balance when striving for simplicity, and reminding us of the importance of listening to our "gut". Happy New Year!

Hi Mark - I like the transformation of the "teach a person to fish" parable as you state it! You're so creative with words, too.

Hi Pam - Actually, I was trained in oils and acrylics and didn't pick up watercolors until twelve years ago! I was too intimidated by them, but also loved oils (and still do). It's great to witness the focus you're assigning to the work you'll produce next year. Great things will result :)

Hi Peggy - did your father teach you to draw? He's an artist, so I thought maybe he was a big influence on your artistic development as a child.

M said...

After buying every art material known, I reached the conclusion that I worked better when I spent time developing technical proficiency in one of them - acrylics. Now that I work in mixed media I have to admit that my forays into pastels, watercolour, oil and encaustic allow me layer and mix when I need to.

Mary Paquet said...

Kathy, what a wonderful description of your early development as an artist. Our family never gave a thought to someone being or becoming an artist, but our parents were very supportive of our artistic endeavors. One brother made beautiful jewelry in high school, another was a very good oil painter, and mom always let me paint jolly Christmas scenes on the livingroom windows. Several were also quite accomplished musicians. I don't believe, though, we would have been encouraged to become a fine arts major. Nor did I do that for my own children, regretably. I came late to believing I could be an artist, but what sheer pleasure I have gotten from that realization.

I like your discussion of simplicity. Your eggshell paintings are certainly a fine example of successfully applying that principle. At the moment I am very much into experimentation with multiple mediums. In the past I clung tenaciously to watercolor, but being retired now from my day job seems to have had this effect on me.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy,

Thank you for your question. I was encouraged to draw. I did receive some instruction from my Dad in the 8th grade about perspective, taking measurements, ratios, proportions and using charcoal. Otherwise, he left me to explore and discover on my own. I imagine he was concerned with being too influential. We had lots of discussion about art, though, and music.

Unknown said...

Hi Margaret - good point! It does help to be proficient in more than one medium, which I've done as well. However, I reached the point where I stopped purchasing every new color that manufacturers dream up. Too much waste, and totally unnecessary. Thanks for commenting!

Hi Mary - it's great that you're spending your newly found extra time experimenting with other mediums. If you haven't already, you might want to take a look at Margaret's site. She creates some interesting effects. Thanks for sharing your personal story. It's fun to get to know each other :)

Hi Peggy - your father sounds like a very wise man. It must have been wonderful to have been raised by an artist parent. There's a lot of maturity in your work, so maybe his influence is deep. Thanks for elaborating!

hw (hallie) farber said...

There is beauty in limits. Some of my best work was created when I worked through the night using only the few colored pencils that are stashed next to my bed.

But, I love art supplies and, since I'm far from any art store, I always order enough to qualify for free shipping.

Your childhood is intriguing; were you an only child? My parents never dis-couraged me from anything; I could sew at age 5 (though my mother didn't), figured out crocheting with a bent spoon & twine after watching a neighbor, got a new coloring book every Saturday, and drew on everything. Until third grade I thought that everyone was like me and could sew or draw or carve things from soap--that it's simply a matter of observing (part of me still feels that way). The art, I believe, is in the concept.

I still buy new crayons (love the smell), have crochet hooks and a weaving loom, and sometimes have the urge to design and sew clothes.
Doesn't everyone?

Another great post with terrific comments, Kathy.

Unknown said...

Hi Hallie - I have an older sister who followed a different path from mine. You and I have something in commong! I also learned to sew when I was very young and to crochet. Small world :) Thanks for telling us more about your childhood. I've so enjoyed getting to know you better along with all our other "travelling" buddies!

-Don said...

Wow! I missed out on another great discussion today. Having the family home all day every day over the holiday season has kept me hopping, so all my "work" (ie, painting, writing, and keeping up with my blogs) has been done way after normal people have retired for the night.

As for today's subject on limits, everything has been covered so well by you, Kathy, and all the comments that I don't know that I can really add anything of any relevance other than to reiterate one of my favorite mantras, "less IS more". (Mark, great analogy, BTW)

I probably will not have the chance to check in all my blog buddies until after midnight in each of your respective time zones tomorrow. So, I leave you with a resounding HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!


Unknown said...

Happy New Year, Don! Hope you have an enjoyable celebration with your friends and family. Thanks for checking-in - it's always great "hearing" your voice :)