Spontaneity and Effort

Here’s Merriam Webster’s first  definition  1. of “spontaneous “:  done or said in a natural and often sudden way and without a lot of thought or planning.

Spontaneity is a quality much praised by artists who wish to paint  or draw in a way that appears to have been done without effort.  But experienced artists know that it is difficult to complete a complex piece of work in a wholly “spontaneous” manner. (Even if you are throwing paint to achieve the impression of spontaneity, you’ll eventually have to learn how to control your gestures or you’ll end up with a mess).   

Without planning and control, without the skill acquired through practice,  a lot can go wrong. You don’t get to be an accomplished “alla prima” painter overnight. 

“Fresh” and “painterly” are considered compliments; “tight” ,  “overworked” and “overly refined” are not.  Art students are routinely cautioned,  “Don’t overwork it!”  In other words, if you lay down a nice stroke don’t fuss with it.  

But sometimes you want to. Sometimes you need to push, to do more.  

You can learn a lot  from the effort to correct a mistake, to  understand which mistakes can be fixed and which will mean starting over.  (If something is worth doing once, it’s worth doing at least twice). Knowing that some kinds of  mistakes can be made to disappear will boost your confidence for the next piece —- or show you how to avoid them in the first place.   In fact, if you don’t make mistakes, you won’t learn much. There’s scientific proof of that. 

Drawing  is often done more freely than painting. For artists who make preliminary studies for their work, spontaneity occurs in these quick, uninhibited  sketches — making mistakes doesn’t matter.  The artist may not place a high value on such studies, but it’s here that we often  get revealing glimpses of the creative process.  Such immediacy in the work of an accomplished artist  is almost always the result of years of practice and discipline  —- the greater the skill, the better the quick study.

And spontaneous —- sometimes accidental — passages occur even in pieces that are carefully planned and executed: a graceful line, a  bold stroke, a patch of luminous color shining through . Such a gesture in a finished work may elevate it from ordinary to poetic. Art-making is process:  every step is important. Without spontaneity, nothing would get started. Without  persistent effort, without refinement, it might not be finished. 

Of course this applies to writing as well as to the visual arts. 

Thumnbnail Sketch-Dancing Figure

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