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July, '06
Technical Knowledge vs. Intuition
by George Allen Durkee

A man visiting our gallery asked, "What percentage of painting is 'technical knowledge' and how much is intuition?" Not that easy to answer. Painting is a balancing act between staying in control of the materials and giving free reign to creative vision. When I paint, I begin by taking in my subject. What do I want to say about this particular place? Is it the subject itself? Or is it a quality of light and atmosphere, a particular pattern of lights and darks or perhaps the play of certain colors? Once I know what I want to say visually, then I think about how to say it in paint.

Every painting is a new challenge. I stand with one foot on the solid ground of what I have done before and what I know about how to paint, and with the other foot in quicksand. This painting is new. I read somewhere that one of the characteristics of creative people is a high tolerance for ambiguity. I can say from long experience that there is often a great deal of ambiguity in painting. I need to be able to not know, while at the same time knowing what I want the painting to express. I do know some things about how to bring that about. I don't know as the painting develops whether it's working or not. Until a certain advanced stage, my canvas may look as if it's been rolled on by a dog covered in paint. And then, magically, the whole thing starts to come alive. This is the point when I need to STOP.

I ask this question: is this the expression I intended? Usually, the answer is yes. Sometimes though, the painting has taken an unintended direction; it's saying something other than the vision with which I began.

Then I have a decision to make. Do I want to force my will onto the canvas and try to make it conform to my initial vision? Or, will I say, "What does the painting want?" and do that, allowing myself to be guided by what may be a higher knowing. Every painting is different in this respect, and I don't always make the best choice. What percentage is technical know-how and how much is intuition? Beats me.

George Allen Durkee
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George Allen Durkee