If you are prone to watching movies that involve soulful, struggling writers who can’t seem to catch a break, you have probably heard them counseled by a wise advisor—“write what you know”.
Oddly, in the last week I’ve heard two writers, Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin, and Garrison Keillor say something slightly different—sure, write what you know, but also write what you don’t know. Write to Discover.
McCann talks about teaching writing: “My first lesson is that you can’t write about what you know about. And they’re like, what in the world can I write about? And I say well, you should write towards what you want to know, and maybe even write what you don’t know. And in the process of writing what you don’t know, you will understand these things that are sort of written in your DNA that are deep in your body, but you weren’t able to actually recognize at the time.”
I know I stretch everything to relate to painting and for me this does. Let’s exchange the word–…and in the process of painting what you don’t know , you will understand these things that are sort of written in your DNA….but you weren’t able to actually recognize….”
In scratching blankly for an element to add to a piece in progress, I wait until something catches my eye–some line, shape, subject or color combo never quite used before. Without hesitation it’s employed. I discover that my gut understood something my mind did not. Observation, focus, patience and risk pay-off. I’m reminded how that works in the rest of life too. When it doesn’t pay-off, I’m reminded that there’s more paint and more paper and to not take it so seriously—another lesson.
Yesterday while painting with Nan she made an observation. My time for painting was up but the unfinished piece on the wall had an area that truly bugged. I REALLY like this painting so far. My heart began to race knowing I’m late. I can’t let it go. I must do something—darker, lighter, brighter, patterned? A different shape? Several colors made no impact, or worse. I run to my pile of paints and an untried tube from Nice is on the top. Brown? The label is so pretty, but brown? What the hell! Milk-chocolate-pudding brown goes over the green that was over the blue—wow…look at those colors together…how cool is that? It was so exciting!
Nan said—“If people watched you paint, they would be surprised at how much your process is about discovery.” It is. That’s the best part. Continuing to pay attention and to follow the flicker of an instinct, not a well-worn path. Watching something new unfold, adding it to my bag of tricks, expanding my ‘signature’, not being afraid. That’s how to develop as a painter, a creator.
This week I’m going to paint in class—a new canvas in each class using the same photo. I will paint for about an hour (nothing will be finished). You can watch, or paint, or do both. In the spirit of discovery I urge you to pick something new to paint or a new tool or medium just to see where it leads.