An Unlikely Friend

“Sunset iii”
oil on linen panel, 6″ x 8″
We artists have to develop some very unordinary skills. And they have nothing to do with brushwork, or paint or seeing in some special way. They have to do with getting really chummy with a deeply dreaded character in our lives; FAILURE.

Yup! You read it correctly. Failure is a huge, ugly demon in life whose bark is greater than its bite. The fear of it keeps artists from stepping into the ‘untried’ and ‘unacquainted with’ parts of art. In other words, many of us are fearful enough of failure that we remain in the warmth and safety of the comfort zone. Any suggestion of moving away from, or out of that zone scares hell out of most.

If we actually examine it, we find (usually) that failure is not some gnarly, nasty, covered with spikes, 200 mile per hour motor scooter diving off the edge of a rocky cliff. In the world of art, Failure is the name of our teacher(s). It is in the crashes that we find our best lessons . . . that is in life, too, usually. And those lessons are remembered well!

Unlike the Indy 500 race or any other race where there lurks the grim reaper if a mistake is made, we must court failure as a welcome passenger all through our ride through the art jungle. One could almost say that in art, failure is the mentor.

It is from that mentor that questions are generated and answers sought. It is from disappointment that we seek to improve. It is from knowing where we want to go and falling short that we hear the voice “try again.” No one ever died or sustained serious injury from a mistaken painting. Yet, unexplainably, some artists absolutely avoid any risk of shortfall at al costs.

I’ll put my bets on those who are willing to be embarrassed in exchange for a lesson. There are good bets and long shots. Those who set aside pride in favor of ‘not succeeding’ in order to try the unknown will, by far, pass those who remain in the ‘comfy zone’ and never venture out and take a risk .

Now . . . .where is that machete? I need to hack my way through this jungle of color and pigment and mediums and drawing and perspective and all that stuff. There are snakes afoot, too! But so what?

13 thoughts on “An Unlikely Friend”

  1. So – are you considering this one’s a failure, Mike? I have to disagree. It’s wonderfully fresh
    and unique in its minimalism.

    Beware of dem snakes.

  2. I’ll have to second that. You were not thinking that this one was a failure were you?
    Maybe you’ve just looked at it for too long Mike.
    I think it has some really nice colors going on and the paint is handled just right.

  3. Hey Nava ! Haven’t ‘seen’ you in a while. I can do better . . . but, after all, this is a venture into a place I haven’t been but twice before. I was stating a little philosophy is all.

  4. Mixed all the colors ahead of time, Frank. Ever heard of such a thing? 😉 I did, really!

    You have ‘students’ as do I. I think the stated philosophy in this post is something to share with all of em . . . .we all learn by experience . . . can’t learn much if we don’t accept that old shadow of failing as an aid rather than a deterrent. Agree?

  5. Well said Mike!

    This painting is TERRIFIC!

    It’s cool the way you teach, as your thinking, as your blogging.

    I’m thinking this may be a paradigm shift in your painting.

  6. Mike: You’re a wordsmith as well as a painter! In regards to mistakes, that’s what I like about acrylic painting. This morning I was working on a piece where the water in the foreground was not working in terms of color and composition. So I said “fuck it!” (not too delicate, but by gum, that’s what I said.) I took out a nice big bright and slathered on a new layer of stokes and color. I played. Compared to watercolor, acrylic painting is a piece of cake! Mistakes for me morph into playtime and learntime (if I may coin a new word). Have fun exploring!

  7. I like the analogy. If failure is our mentor and teacher, who are our parents? Our mother must be the nurturing comments we get from our peers and our farther could be inspiration from nature…. if we continue dowmn the family tree who is aunt Bessy?

    Great painting and wonderfully written.

  8. David . . .thanks for the comment and reaffirming my statement. Errors or misdeeds in paintings offer opportunities for discovery. Your ‘playing’ is what makes you a terrific painter. Someone else might fold the tent and quit. Those are the folks we need to encourage.

  9. Hey Peter! Nice of you to stop in . . . .and interesting thoughts, too. ‘Aunt Bessy’ brought a chuckle. I wonder what “father” is going to show us next! 😉

  10. Well, then I agree with the failure philosophy. Have a few failed paintings hanging around right now. Some I know are failed from the start and some hang in there a little longer. Some beat me down and others just make me laugh.
    The failed ones are sometimes a good place to experiment. What more could go wrong, right?
    Glad to hear you tried the pre mixing.

  11. Yeah, Frank. I sometime premix when I know ahead of time that I will have several colors or tones of the same value. When I did this sunset I had four different grays with interesting, but subtle temperature shifts and the same for the pinks-salmonss-orange-yellows.

    Somewhere along the line I learned that if color changes are what to emphasize, then values should be close to avoid value contrasts stealing the stage from color contrasts. It’s fun to play with.

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