Artists Who Repeat Themselves---can you say that again, please?
I find it so interesting how artists seem to repeat themselves over and over with their subject matter. It’s like the artist is saying the same thing 100 times only saying it slightly differently. The first time, it’s “Oooh, I love their gestures.” The next time, she says, “Isn’t it interesting how the light falls on their different shapes?” And the next time she says, “I wonder what’s going on behind them?” Each time the artist paints what interests her and to her, it’s a whole new focus. It seems like a new idea to the artist and probably looks new to the viewer too but if you step back far enough, way back so you can see their whole body of work from when they first picked up a paintbrush until today and you analyzed it, you will see repeating themes. And you might even be able to find some Big Meanings in that work.
But most artists won’t know what the major themes are in their work.
It’s the nature of the beast. An artist is so close to their work, their noses are stuck to the canvas, the writer to his computer screen. They can no more see their whole body of work and find the major themes than become an astronaut in space. It’s like looking in a mirror and never being about to truly see how we look to others. We’re simply not very objective when it comes to seeing ourselves. Charlie Brown says to Lucy, after one of her long tirades of how much she likes everything about herself, “If you like yourself too much, don’t you think you’re liable to get a little conceited?” to which Lucy replies, “Don’t be silly, you can’t like yourself too much!” Well Lucy, you can. I think we artists adore each of our little strokes so much that we often fail to see the whole painting just as we fail to see how our body of work is a series of repeating themes.
And that’s okay. Writers need to simply keep writing and painters need to keep painting and we shouldn’t worry about repeating themes. We should worry about the one painting we’re working on now and how can we make it the very best piece we’ve ever painted. Someone else can do the interpreting, should that ever need to happen. I still find it interesting and like to look at other artists to try to see their themes. But I leave the mirrors in my studio covered. My job is to focus on what’s on my easel.