I often think of Art as the coming together of things that the artist, according to their preference, chooses. I love that there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what those things are. It literally can be anything.
However it is in the presentation of those things within the art that can make a big difference. This is basically much of what I teach. Whether someone, other than yourself, will see your art and become engaged, find similar inspiration or become curious as you did, has a lot to do with how things in your art are arranged.
The simple idea of setting up a comparison, showcasing the opposite of what you show in your art almost always makes your original preference more potent, more powerful. For example if you are interested in showing super bright colors it is helpful to have areas of your art contain more neutral tones of grey, white and black.
The viewer will always compare everything that you present in your work, whether they know it or not, and if those things are opposite, both will be enhanced by each other’s presence. If you want to show something big then place something very tiny beside it to make it feel more so. Careful controlled painting looks especially so alongside areas of spontaneity.
It is very early and still dark outside as I write these words. I can hear the ocean right below my cabin. I am at Esalen – a beautiful retreat center located on the Big Sur coast in Calif. There is limited Wi Fi here, which makes it difficult to maintain the emails. One just cannot be productive in the usual business day-to-day way.
I walk to breakfast every day here through a staggeringly beautiful garden. The path winds past a small pond that some days is filled with a chorus of what must be hundreds of frogs. Their song is extraordinary. But oddly on some days they remain silent. Each day I spend a few minutes walking to breakfast thinking and wondering why this is so.
It is not such a big idea or curiosity but what is rather surprising to me is that I actually have the space and time to think about it at all. There is just more room here to think. There are, of course, intense full-on patches of teaching I do every day, but these are interspersed with hours when I am not. There are hot springs to experience, an aquamarine sea with whale sightings to stare at and literally dozens of chance encounters with people who, like you, seem to also have just that little bit of extra time to engage in a conversation.
What I think I am talking about is spaciousness. It is especially noticeable, alongside busyness. A patch of life that feels so parched by endless to do lists and responsibilities can be so quenched by coming into a clearing where the blue sky can be seen again. An area that is not overcrowded, a time that is not scheduled.
This duality is one that is tricky to maintain in life. Remembering to leave time to do nothing is not entirely intuitive. At least for me.
However, I am reminded of its importance in my life, again and again, by my art.
Creating density, filling my pictures with all my intentions, all my stubborn desires, often can become overwhelming. It is that sickening feeling when you just feel too much of yourself in something.
I teach my students and myself over and over again that there needs to be spaciousness to offset the tendency to over cram everything we want in our art. Density and spaciousness are opposites and they love, they simply love to reside together.
Who of us hasn’t discovered that often things improve by simply removing rather than adding more? It is a hard lesson to remember in our art, and can be an even harder one to remember in life.
But that contrast, that duality works beautifully in both. They simply need each other.
So maybe today, it might not need to be about adding more into your art, but rather less. Maybe it is about creating a clearing, a passage, a section of our art where it becomes empty. Where density gives way to spaciousness. And you and the viewer suddenly find yourselves wandering into a clearing where that patch of blue sky can be felt again.
What might be taken away in your art today?