Picasso famously said: ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”. He also said: ”It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” There is wisdom there.
Extrapolate your own meaning, but for me he’s talking about approaching the painting process with wonder and curiosity, while abandoning concern for outcome. This is a tall order for most of us. We strive. We strive for accomplishment, for approval and for security, but rarely is our goal to simply play, as a child, to see “what happens if…?”
Playing with whatever materials might be around in the studio does not provide solid ground for progress. Things keep shifting. There is no way to predict. No formula or outline that can guarantee a respectable result. It’s an endeavor to discover that includes the graceful acceptance of failure. Progress is the byproduct that seems too allusive.
The New Year dust-off of my overstuffed studio is a nod to Picasso’s philosophy. I decided to paint a small, quick painting a day, no bigger than 11×14, without plan or subject, with just a sense of experimentation and play. Whatever is on the table is employed—some inks, metallic powder, an old book and some sheet music, a mish-mash of color. I started by just opening and pouring, pushing and gluing.
Why is it so hard to play!? It should be easy and fun to lose oneself in playful gestures, in any media, that can give our imagination free reign. But we strivers find it difficult. We don’t value it as a worthy action. However if we don’t exercise the power of play, it gets rusty. Ideas, dreams, fancies get stiff—think Tin Man with a brush.
So, ironically, I’ve been using the utmost discipline to not rely on subject or idea and just play with whatever is in front of me using only instinct. Geez, the results seem boring so far. But I’m putting the work on the wall, letting it steep and meld, refraining from disliking it and hoping it will teach me something. A little non-judgmental analysis can inform a whole body of work moving forward.
The activity is both a little fun and a little painful. But I’m determined, in my striving self, to continue through the month hunting and pecking at this and that piled around me. Joy must be in there somewhere. There remain endless creations to be discovered by simply starting and letting go.
Picasso also said “I don’t seek, I find.” We’ll see what’s underneath a new leaf for a new year.