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Miranda: What to paint (or write or make) next

paintbrushesI subscribe to the weekly newsletter of Canadian painter Robert Genn. While Genn writes about painting, I often find that his thoughts apply to any creative pursuit, including writing. This week’s newsletter spoke to the dilemma of deciding which project to work on next–something that Christa recently experienced.

Genn’s newsletter is reprinted here in full, by permission.

Yesterday’s inbox included the short and sweet: ‘I’ve been painting seriously for the last fifteen years, and I now have trouble deciding what to paint. How do I decide?’ The email was signed ‘Diane W. Reitz, BFA.’

Thanks, Diane. Maybe the BFA after your name gives us a clue. Maybe you know too much. But don’t worry, it’s a common problem, BFA or not.

The creative life requires a steady progression of experimentation and discovery. While acquired wisdom is useful, your knowledge must work in tandem with the daily exercise of your curiosity. A life in art is more a working event than the application of prior knowledge. Further, as you paint, you are able to decide what to paint. Paintings come out of themselves.

Prime your pump–your work goes viral.

There’s a pile of tricks you can pull to prime the pump. Go to your earlier inspiration–drawings, reference photos, field notes. Recall the direction this material took you in the past, and then go looking for a new angle. Don’t waste time. Commit yourself to the most humble application of paint. Get it through your system and out onto your reviewing easel. Perhaps reward it with a quick framing. Consider again the possibilities and commit once more, perhaps to a larger size.

Don’t be precious. Try to think like Edison when he was trying different stuff that might do for filaments in light bulbs.

First thing you know you’ll feel refreshed and renewed rather than burdened with making a decision. Further, you will see a need for further refinement. Personal refinement of vision makes creativity worthwhile. What you do may not be unique in the greater world of art, but it’s the sweet ignorance of outcome that drives you on.

When artists see themselves inching forward with minor improvements, they begin a natural flow that becomes unstoppable. I formerly told artists who were unable to decide what to paint that they might not be cut out for the game. Then I realized that our very existence is based on ignorance of where we’re going. What’s important is having the fortitude and patience to dig around and try to find out. Actually, ‘having trouble deciding’ is a good part of the fun. Accept the fun.

Best regards,


One Comment Post a comment
  1. Juliet Bell #

    Interesting article. I’ve been madly painting – there’s an April 20th submission date I’m trying to meet. At first I resisted the urge to experiment, unsure of the results, I was afraid I would waste time – better to go with the tried and true I thought. But the urge would not leave, so I gave in and went with it. Dare I say it, after all these years, I felt for the first time that I had actually found my voice. I say it softly, as perhaps this voice will be replaced with a new sound. But the process has been wonderful and emphasizes that the process is the point.

    April 7, 2008

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