from the Colors of Jazz Collection”
© 2020, Molly Larson Cook
36 x 24, Acrylic on Canvas
In any of the creative arts, revision is the name of the game. Nobody gets it perfect the first time. It’s always instructive for new writers to look at manuscripts left by well-known authors, manuscripts with scrawled new words or lines, other lines scratched out, then added back in, a jumbled mess. The process is clear.
Anybody who thinks a published piece of writing comes out whole the first time might also think a painting or a sculpture or any work of art comes out perfect the first time. Or that an actor has a new role down at the first reading. We painters can’t usually leave all our early marks on the canvas, but believe me, they’re there.
“Mr. P.C.” is a revision of an earlier painting (same title) that I finished in 2017. I was pretty happy with it, although it never seemed to carry the weight I wanted. The colors were lighter and I could feel the difference between that one and other work I did about the same time. Over the intervening three years, I’ve learned new ways with colors, and this week decided to give Mr. P.C. a new coat of many colors.
Psychiatrist Rollo May wrote a terrific book titled The Courage to Create. It’s one for any creative worker to read. And he also wrote this line in a different context. I’ve carried it around with me for years:
“To the best of my lights, this is what I choose to do, although I may know more and choose differently tomorrow.”
I like this line because May is talking about growth. And it is growth that creative people seek. Whether it’s becoming a better writer, musician, poet, dancer, actor, architect, mechanic, carpenter or painter, we make choices based on what we know at the moment understanding that we “may know more and choose differently tomorrow.”
That’s exactly what happened with Mr. P.C. As I’ve learned more, my work has changed. My tools have changed. My understanding of color has changed. And my understanding of technique has changed. I didn’t gesso over the early Mr. P.C. The early version intact became the foundation for the layering and depth of color in the more recent work just as a sentence fragment might become the foundation for a stronger line or image in a poem.
Artists are often encouraged to hold on to early works so we can learn from them, track our progress. I don’t disagree with that, but I don’t think we need to hold on to every early work to note our progress any more than a writer needs to hold on to 300 pages of a first novel just to see where she’s been. At the moment I’m revising a couple of other early paintings. I haven’t repainted them entirely, but have “edited” sections, and they’re coming along well. I look forward to seeing what happens next.
Art is not a product. Art is a process. All creativity is a process. Repeating the same thing again and again is not creativity. It may be pleasing and it may sell, but it’s not creativity.
We’re well past daffodil season now, but these few lines from one of E. E. Cummings’ poems come to mind:
“in time of daffodils(who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why,remember how…”
Yes, it does take courage to grow and create. But the rewards are many.