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We Walk on Quicksand
by George Allen Durkee
August 25, 2007

Ben Stahl said, "Learn everything you can, then forget all of it and paint." There is so much to know. Every subject is different, every day is different, every day the artist is different.

There is no one right way to paint. A complex subject might require a cautious, step-by-step approach. A whimsical intention may suggest a walk-in-swinging manner of working. There are few absolutes. The rules of paint handling are simply what to do that has been successful in the past under different circumstances.

It's not enough to paint things the way they really look. We have photography and video cameras for that. Artists need to go beyond simply reproducing the physical appearance of things. Emerson said, "Art is nature seen through a temperament." Art is painting the guts of a subject. We cannot be overly concerned with perfection. Painting is messy. The painting will be whatever it turns out to be.

Painting is a balancing act, a dance between feeling and thinking, between sensing and knowing. Is this lighter or darker than that? Is it warmer or cooler, brighter or grayer? What pigments do I combine to get that color? How thick or thin does the paint need to be for this area? Which brush or knife do I use now? Would it be better to simplify this area, omitting most of the detail?"

Painting is finding appropriate answers to an avalanche of questions. And the answers now are not necessarily the same as earlier. Painting is dynamic and slippery. Every brushstroke changes the entire design. Innovation requires risk. How can we know what we feel if we keep censoring ourselves? We walk on quicksand.

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