The Laws of Nature

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Setting Up and Letting Go

Continuing with Chapter 1 of Richmond's book, we've arrived at section 3 which is entitled "Setting Up and Letting Go." Once again, the author offers us sage advice: relinquish the control that you never had in the first place. I'd say that this is good advice for life in general. But, let's see how it's applied to making art.

She begins by acknowledging that preparation and hard work are important if we want good results. But, it is equally important to allow chance to play a role. I like to call this "contingency," where unexpected events require a response or reaction. The importance of "chance" is that it can enhance our efforts, especially if we take advantage of it and use it. Of course, our ability to utilize the opportunities that chance offers us is based upon our previous experiences, tools, resources, and confidence. A strong foundation is essential.

Richmond, or "Wendy" as Don knows her (wink), relates an interesting experience where an artist set up an experiment that forced him to relinquish control during an early stage of production. Therefore, he had no idea what the finished product would become in a process that he defined as a compromise between total control and self-negation.

If you'll indulge me once again, I'll return to my teaching experience to illustrate this point. During my early professorial years, when I was still "green," I placed too much emphasis on sticking to the syllabus I had created for the course. This didn't allow me to respond to student interest in particular topics that would have provided greater depth to the course. It also didn't allow students the opportunity to pursue their interests and relate the material to their own lives. Eventually, I realized that this was a disservice to my students, and so I began to pay close attention to their viewpoints and interests, even inviting them to spend time with me individually to discuss themselves. By listening and letting go of my planned syllabus, I was able to become a much more effective teacher who, each semester, had a long waiting list of students that wanted to enroll in my courses. And, as the student roster changed every term, I had to change the course to suit that particular group. Decades of teaching this way taught me that contingency, or "chance," is a great opportunity to create something meaningful, unique, and interesting that others can relate to. I also found that my teaching became more fun and rewarding. I've tried to embrace contigency as I paint, but must admit that I'm not as successful as I'd like to be. But, I have, of late, been studying the works of our new good friend Stan Kurth who has mastered this process.

Richmond concludes this section of her book by writing Powerful work is often defined by its ability to remain relevant within a new set of circumstances that occur after the piece is conceived. We have a lot to gain when we allow the work to be nourished by whatever surrounds it.


Your thoughts?


Stan Kurth said...

First, thank you Kathy!

Second, I do believe I too will refer to Ms Richmond as "Wendy".

-Don said...

This sounds like the perfect vacation plan to me. First you map out your destination and make your plans. Then you go with the flow, visit the side shops, sample the local cuisine, and meet new people while creating memories which will last a lifetime.


hw (hallie) farber said...

"Setting up and Letting Go." Art imitates life--I like it.

Unknown said...

Hi Stan - Ah ... another "friend" of Ms. Richmond!

Hi Don - I agree; that's the best way to travel. No pressure, just fun!

Hi Hallie - good way to put it!

Mary Paquet said...

I must read this book for myself. I like the author's viewpoint. And, Hallie, you hit the mark.

Don, that's my kind of travel. Sometimes we go to other countries with only first and last reservations so we can go with the flow.

I don't think I've yet reached that place in my art - would like to, though.

I just checked out Stan's work -- great philosopy of art and the execution is superb.

Anonymous said...

Kathy, Your discussion about letting go has me thinking and contemplating. I keep thinking of the risk of working intuitively and experimentally; they often don't work. But, when they do the paintings can be most rewarding. On the other hand, I can see how being rigid in planning and execution can lead to be bored with painting. Still trying to find the balance!

Unknown said...

Hi Mary - you'll enjoy the book, I'm certain! Richmond's writing style is accessible and flows.

Hi Peggy - your combination approach of using blind contour drawing and planned drawings seems to be a great approach! Doesn't this require some intuition?