The Questions That Matter

“when I heard the learn’d astronomer…”
© 2019, Molly Larson Cook
Acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 30″

In that much-quoted book Art & Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland suggest that perhaps there’s a simple premise when it comes to understanding our lives as artists and our work:  just pull together all the leads and pieces and we’ll discover a “single, clear, concise, fundamental, finely honed answer.”

But they immediately go on to contradict themselves with this:  “Answers are reassuring, but when you’re onto something really useful, it will probably take the form of a question.”

And they have three worthy questions for artists, young or old, seasoned or just beginning.
“What is your art really about? Where is it going? What stands in the way of getting it there?”

As always, I say that the notes and questions from this book apply to many kinds of creative activities and could as well be asked by an architect, a dancer, a musician, an actress, a carpenter, or a world-class problem-solving auto mechanic.

The art we make, whatever it is, comes from every experience we’ve had and takes us to every new experience we’ll have in the future.  I’ll go all the way out on this limb and say that every creative artist – those who don’t just copy the same thing a dozen times or imitate someone else but really get into the belly of the creative whale – every one of these artists is a storyteller.

Just as a writer includes his or her history in every page that comes out, a visual artist includes his or her history on every canvas he or she paints.  Dancers dance their stories, carpenters tell them with wood. I watched a guitar maker one evening carefully planing the surface of a new instrument.  Telling a story.  I was enchanted.

And we add to our stories as we learn and experiment.  For the painting above, I returned to a technique I used a few years back with colored glosses, layers upon layers.  It’s a slow process, but it does what I wanted to do.  More recently, I’ve been layering color in a different and less satisfying way.  So I flipped through my mental handbook and stopped at the page about layering with gloss.

I spent more time than I expected on it, but came away with the painting I wanted to see.  The story I wanted to tell.

I’ve been painting for five years now and I think I’m beginning to get a grip on the work.  What is it really about? Where is it going? What stands in the way of getting there?







6 thoughts on “The Questions That Matter

  1. Oh thank you! I’d love to hear some of those things if you want to send them. Your words mean the world to me. Molly

  2. Means a lot to read this from you, kiddo. Your thoughts always welcome. Hoped my creative friends would like what the book says – I recommend it. A couple of artists from Oregon wrote it. Love you…

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