Sometimes, a single word can do more to focus my practice than weeks spent in the studio.
In a recent interview on 99 percent, Francis Ford Coppola talked about some things he has learned about cinema throughout his long career as one of Hollywood’s greatest directors.
“When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word.”
Know the core of the work.
Keep this word in mind while working.
Be able to express the core in a single word when asked.
This was one of those ideas that didn’t really excite me so much as I was reading the interview, but the more I think about it, the more I think that this is a very, very important point.
This is not exactly a new idea for me. While I was working on my thesis at OCAD, I scheduled most of my weekly meetings with this one particular professor who absolutely hated my work. I would present my work to him, discuss my ideas, and he would tear it all apart (figuratively tear it apart, no art was harmed during the critiquing process) My main reason for putting myself through this was to get myself used to tough criticism right from the start, so the final critique would be comparatively easy. But there was another advantage to spending so much time with this particular prof that I hadn’t planned on: this man had the remarkable ability to distill a long winded and vague idea of mine into a single word. Somehow, I knew that this level of clarity was important, but I wasn’t quite ready to really think about it.
This interview with Coppola served as a reminder for that idea, and this time, I think I’m ready.
When I paint, I am constantly making small decisions.
Any time a person is making something new, they are making decisions. If they aren’t constantly making decisions, then the job is a mindless one; one that will eventually be performed by robots.
Every object I add is a decision, every colour is a decision, every value, every hue, every brush stroke is a decision. It might not matter that much, most of these decisions aren’t very significant in the end, but every once in a while, (usually towards the end of the painting process), I am faced with something big, a make-it-or-break-it decision. I have to do something big, but I’m not sure what.
I used to stand back and stare at the canvas for long periods of time, trying to imagine where a certain decision might take this image. I would take digital pictures and look at the painting in black and white, or I might look at the painting in a mirror, or just leave it for a while. Sometimes, I might put off working on that painting for days. Sometimes I left it for weeks. Eventually, I would figure it out and return to the canvas, and resume painting. Half the time, I realized that I had made the wrong decision.
Having the theme clear in my mind eliminates this agonizing decision making process. It keeps the work focused and keeps me on track. It helps me be sure that I am making the right decision.