Too Close? < Deep Thought Thursday

Debora L. Stewart, Luminous Vista

©2011 Debora L. Stewart, Luminous Vista. Soft pastel on sanded paper, mounted on archival board, 14 x 24 inches.

An artist said to me:

I often don’t like my work until a year or more later. Maybe I’m too close to it.

I always thought that an artist’s most recent work was her favorite, but I guess that’s not necessarily true.

Are you more critical of recent work and grow to like it more as time goes on?

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39 comments to Too Close? < Deep Thought Thursday

  • Wow, I am the opposite. I grow more and more critical of my work over time. Something that completely satisfied me when I finished it often a year later will be completely painted over or changed because I grow to see more and more flaws in it. I now tend to wait a good while before I document a new piece to see if it survives and then put it away in storage. This prevents me from trying to go back and redo all my paintings once I make a new break through.

    FYI…my site is still being launched, but should be live by the end of the week.

    • I agree … I’m always excited about the latest creation … then a day, week, month or year later, I look at it and wonder how I missed that blob in the corner … or whatever.

  • Thank you for posting my work Alyson. I continually experiment and try new directions so I do become more critical of past work.

  • I get to “I cannot look at it anymore” just before it is finished. Having lived with it for maybe a month – thinking, solving problems (especially just as I want to sleep). But I turn it away from view and go back a few days later. A newly framed piece always looks fresher. Paintings of mine I see at friends homes – I think “I’d like to have that back”. Others, “How could I”.

  • I find that when I finish new pieces I just am happy they are done. Especially new drawings. They are physically and mentally draining. Much like running a marathon. I usually seal them them make sure they are photographed by the pro that I use then they get rolled up and stuffed in a tube for about 6-8 months. Then I usually pull them out and take a look at them try to decided what it is that works or doesn’t work.

    Sculpture also takes its toll but at this stage in the game they are more of a maquette scale so they can just be crated and forgot about for a bit. I have run out of storage in the studio pretty much at this point so making the kind of work at the scale I enjoy is just out of the question.

  • “Art is never finished, only abandoned’ – DaVinci
    Yeah, That’s how I feel. I kind of think of my pieces as children. I try to look back at them with a loving heart. Some I look at after a time and think, ” Hey, that’s really not half bad.” Some I am pretty proud of, and others I might wish were never born, but they do document at least a minute or two of my life, so they are hard to deny. At least I keep at it!

  • I find I’m most excited about what is new or what’s stewing in my head yet to come. (Which is probably why it’s a challenge for me to hang older works.)

    Interesting to read such varied viewpoints!

  • It’s NEVER really done! I like to keep a painting on a wall or sitting on a shelf so I can look at it daily or, at the most, weekly. Waiting a year or more gives you time to think about it. In a year you change, the way you view pictures and the world changes. You may have learned a new technique. Maybe you find things to correct. Sometimes its difficult to know when you are finished enough to “let go and move on” even after a year.

    • Suzanne Maxim

      I do the exact same thing. I think my friends/family sometimes think I’m vain that I keep my artwork on the wall in public locations in my apartment, but really, it’s a studying process.

  • On the rare instance where I feel like I absolutely nailed a work, the work often seems great from the moment it’s finished. But that doesn’t happen often.

    My usual pace involves creating the work, liking it for a short while (a week or so), then noticing the flaws in it and being somewhat displeased with it for a long time. After I’ve created enough pieces following that work, I’ll often go back and look at it and find that I’m much happier with it than I have been. The flaws don’t bother me as much (often because I’ve corrected/solved the problem in future paintings) and I can really see again what I loved about the piece in the first place.

  • I listen to my gut and it is usually right. I instinctively know when creating the piece if it has reached a conclusion and looking back I still approve of work that has spoken to me in this way.

    The work that doesn’t speak usually gets re-worked until it does. If it stubbornly refuses to speak; it gets recycled.

    • This is exactly how I feel. A work is done when it tells me it’s done. That rarely changes (though it isn’t always immediate; sometimes it has to sit in the corner a day or three). Generally if I was happy with it in the first place, I’m happy with it later, even if my work has changed in the meantime.

      But I have shelved some paintings that I just stopped working on because I wasn’t happy with their direction — and occasionally I find them years later and wonder why. I unearthed one of my best little paintings that way. I’ve learned not to destroy things immediately. Sometimes a little distance changes my perspective.

      • Suzanne Maxim

        Perfectly stated!!
        “The work that doesn’t speak usually gets re-worked until it does. If it stubbornly refuses to speak; it gets recycled.”

  • sometimes a piece takes on a life of it’s own. I just start and away it goes,, Occasionally, I don’t like it in the process but after I turn it away and look later I see it as a whole, not just the parts.

    • Well stated!
      Every piece has “a life of its own”. Some come quick and easy and some take time and straggle.
      It is not a question of love or hate but did I expressed the thought, feeling. concept or idea that I was after.

  • Mea

    One of the hardest mental challenges of pottery … we need to learn to let go of expectations whenever we put something in a kiln. Easier said than done! Often when I (or one of my students) doesn’t like one of our finished pots, it’s because it doesn’t match our expectations. I tell my students to wait two months, by then they will have forgotten what they were expecting, and they will see the pot instead.

  • I am way behind on an order I basically finished a month ago. I couldn’t finish it then because, when I looked at it, I thought it was too ugly. Now a month later I am falling in love with it. Odd how that works. I recently saw something I had made in 2002. It was so amazing, I could hardly believe I had made it, and made it only once.

  • Suzanne Maxim

    For me it depends entirely on the piece and what I was feeling when I created it. Like Lynn Hosegood above, I sometimes see a piece at a friends’ place and want it back. Other times, not so much. I have often liked something I did and then tried to improve it, only to completely ruin it and have to start over. It’s all so subjective.

  • I have ones that I don’t immediately like. You bet! But I have more that I hate later on, too. I think it is because we continue to grow. Maybe it is the insecurity in us, but sometimes you put yourself into a painting and you don’t like what you see. Or maybe it is more like “criticize it before someone else does!”

  • I have often brought work home from the studio and thought it was fully cooked, but then seeing it in a new environment, come to realize it doesn’t quite hit the right note.
    Meaning that what I wanted the content to convey isn’t working, some kind of balance between dense/open, forward/back, clarity/ambiguity, or movement/counter movement isn’t there yet.
    I think the work is going best when I am deeply, constantly into it, and know what qualities I’m after. When the conversation is interrupted too often or for too long, I can lose my way and the paintings are less persuasive.
    and yet ….the alternative experience can also happen- I come back to see things more clearly – know what needs to be changed. After 30 years, the process is as enigmatic as ever.

  • Most of the time I love what I am working on best or what my next piece is going to be. However, as a ceramic artist I never exactly know how a piece will end up until I open the kiln on the final firing. Sometimes I need a week to sit with the piece and may decide to alter it.

  • I’m like the artist in your post. When I’ve just finished a piece, I see all it’s inadequacies. People ask me whether it’s hard to hand over commissioned work when finished. NOT AT ALL! I am happy to get it out of my sight at that moment (and still MORE happy to see it inspire the recipient). But when I visit the piece a few months later or borrow it for an exhibition, I’m amazed how beautiful it has become. Then I get to experience it with the same awe a first-time viewer has. Having learned this about myself, I don’t take my dissatisfaction with newly finished pieces too seriously. I know it will pass.

  • For me it depends on the work itself. I look at some older pieces and am reminded how much I like them while others I can look at and feel quite disconnected from them, not that i don’t like them, but that perhaps my style is so different now that I can’t relate to them. Its the same with the new pieces, it all depends on each artwork, but in all cases never have I gone back to change it, to me my artwork is always finished.

  • with my work i will absolutely know (a gut feeling) which pieces i like immediately…and a year later i will still like them. Same holds true with the ones i don’t like very much i never end up connecting with them.

  • If I absolutely love a painting when it’s completed, the chances are pretty good that I’ll continue to like it. So I guess I rely on a gut reaction too. It’s wonderful coming upon
    a painting you’ve forgotten at a collector’s place, and being surprised by your own
    talent. Most of the time when I think something’s good, that feeling continues.

  • I forgot about the eco-dammar varnish I used on my oil painting “Tempesta”…Took document pictures, made myself a peel n’ stick poster to keep for when it sells (sliced in half it makes a nice kitchen cupboard cover)…Then I put it away…6 months later I decided to take a fresh photo for maybe selling purposes…Woops! The eco-dammar had been yellowish (not dry completely) & is now totally transparent! Way better!
    I ‘ve been sitting on my thumbs waiting for my concrete swan sculpture to cure…(28 days minimum between layers)…Must remember to have patience…I get so excited about something new, I forget that the materials all have to make friends for a while…

  • Joanne

    Robert, I totally agree with your first line. Rare is the operative word!

  • I have pieces that I love when they’re done, and others that it takes me awhile to enjoy, after I’ve had a little time and gotten some perspective on it. Sometimes I need to get used to what I’ve painted, it’s a new development in my work, and I don’t know if I like it or what I like about it or not. There’s some that never resolve, and some that plop out of me onto the paper and are complete, as if by magic. They have a life of their own…

  • Most of the time I am dissatisfied with my art through the process. It isn’t until the last touch that I accept and than fall in love with my art. It is in those finishing touches that I become attached to my newest pieces. As the art sits and my style grows I often times become more critical of the piece however there are always the exceptions that I can’t part with.

  • It is always about the process, not the product.

  • This touched me because I have been doing some deep soul searching on exactly this and the tension I have around love/hate of my work and even stopped painting for a year. Where I came out on it after years of making myself miserable and almost always living in a state of dissatisfaction….each piece is a creation in the moment it happened…much like a thought in meditation, it comes and goes out of my life. I focus now on what is the feeling I want this painting to convey, what color can I ad to finish it? I play with it…I put the new color on my finger and try it on the painting. I wipe it off if I don’t like it…
    I just stopped doing outdoor shows, which sustained me for 12 years. I loved the feedback and 98% of the times, the public was much more loving of me than I of myself. (One lady told me she did not like my work, but loved my frames…I tried to sell her a frame)… This self criticism burned me out and it literally sucked the life force out of me.
    After my break from painting to sell at shows, I am seeing that underneath all of this is my fear of not being good enough. The economic side of being an artist can help anyone go there and so can cultural conditioning and family of origin. So instead of killing my creations with criticism, I am treating them like new babies and loving them.

    I dealt with the question of older paintings that I had by giving away a lot of them to charities for fundraisers and to friends or people who support me and always have, because the other thing I believe is that many people can’t afford art and if someone connects with one of my paintings, I would rather it be in their home then painted over. At the shows I always had an experiment pile that I sold for an inexpensive prices. Some part of me always said there is a home for you to each painting. Every marketing class said this was not the way to go, but it worked for me.

    I have a painting from each stage of my evolution as an artist hanging in my studio to remind me of my journey…each one has a deep personal meaning and I love it for what is represents. It is almost like having my son’s baby pictures around the house.

    I can’t take back any of the things that I have done in the past, I can only make different choices about the moment…that goes for my art and my life! I am being much more generous with myself and others. I am saying that is enough and I am enough more and more…There is starting to be a sense of more joyful freedom and I hope to emerge (and update my website) soon with a deeper love for expressing myself with paint!!!

  • Take a color wheel on your art journey

  • So true! Every time I’m done with something, no matter the media and for as long as I can remember, I have felt similarly. For me I work on it until I’m “happy” and then the moment I am done I’m dissatisfied and want to start over.

    I think of the greek myth of Pygmalion falling in love with his perfect woman sculpture and wonder if I’d ever experience a work I consider my “masterpiece” (and by extension of the tale how terrifying that might actually be!). ;)

    There was something I’d heard an artist say recently about how if you don’t see flaws in your work you may not be growing as an artist. Oooo wish I could quote that properly but anyhow, that’s the gist of it for my rationale behind the love/hate relationship we have. That said, I don’t think there are many works I’ve looked back upon and “loved” 100% like you are asking here. I felt that way briefly enough to sign it but that enchantment fades for me about as fast as it takes for that signature to become afixed! ;)

  • Love that pastel piece. Anyway I’m only interested in while I’m doing it. Though some pieces stay fresh longer.

  • My favorite pieces right now are some of the first I did when I started painting in a different style. I am always excited about whats on my easel and going thru the love hate process that I do with almost every painting while I’m working on it. Most often the love or the hate settles down after time and I just become neutral to the piece, But sometimes it hangs on and those are the pieces I can’t bring myself to sell.

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