It’s not very creative if you keep tilling the same field over and over. That makes you an art farmer, not a creative artist. (Gordon Matheson)

Since several recent posts referenced Thomas Kinkade, this seemed a good time to touch on the subject of ‘retilling ground’.

I revisit subject matter – any artist does – but, given my very low tolerance for repetition and equally low threshold for boredom, each painting needs to be different enough from anything else I’ve ever painted to keep me excited. I’ve painted several bronc-riding images, and no doubt will paint many more – the attitudes, positions, light, color, my own interpretations of composition – all should serve to expand my horizons on the topic in some way. The same holds true for bison, bears, or barrel-racers.

In fact, this need to explore probably nudged me out of the I-only-paint-wildlife category. I love animals, obviously…but wild animals, 99% of the time, are standing around or eating or lying down, or some combination of the above. The other 1% of the time they’re mating, or trying to kill / avoid being killed. This means that my chances of seeing them in a state of high excitement and action are very low. Once you’ve painted three or ten images of bison mostly standing around, you’re looking for something else to do. Rodeo, on the other hand, is guaranteed nonstop action, excitement, and color for two hours or more. The variations of position, color, and light are almost infinite.

The real point here is about artistic growth. There are plenty of artists who become known for something and render it well…and then coast along there, not really pushing or growing. How much more interesting to continue in a quest to say something wonderful and original! I plan to paint until I drop dead at my easel, and if I’m to stay engaged for the next 4+ decades, I’d better be pushing all the while.

4 Responses to “Art farming”
  1. Kathy Partridge says:

    Great blog Julie!

    I find that “art farming” sort of afflicts whole genres as well. Not only does the artist risk boredom painting three or ten standing/grazing/sleeping bison but the whole genre of wildlife art (in this instance) risks it too – after awhile all those standing bison paintings (regardless of who did them) tend to all look pretty similar.

    Ditto figurative, still life, etc. I also think that some show committees or organizations encourage “farming” by selecting what often appears to be whole room-fuls of the “approved style” – witness the current fad for anything that looks “plein-air”.

    In equine art, the “farming” very often takes the form of what I call “floating horse heads”. Like most, if not all, artists who started out painting horses I went through my floating horse head stage. I now avoid them like the plague…seen one, seen ’em all. I do recall believing that if I could just do that one spectacularly fantabulous horse head, it would be the most amazing thing anyone ever saw and I would have arrived.

    Ah, the delusions of youth. :-)

  2. Julie Chapman says:

    Kathy – oh lordy, your “floating horse heads” made me laugh – I’d forgotten all about those horrid things. I’ve sometimes been under the same delusions about doing a tired subject in a splendiferous way, but never carried through on any of it (or at least I hope not).

    My licensing agent, for instance, has said that wolves are (or at least were) quite popular, and he’d love to see me try a wolf image. The problem is that wolves have been so overdone that I’m super duper cautious about even trying a painting – the idea had better be darn good and different if I’m to get excited about it.

  3. Larry Jewett says:

    The “floating horse head” image is funny, though I must admit I have never painted a horse (I used to draw a lot when I was a kid and still have some horse drawings i did, which are actually not that bad, surprisingly enough), so I probably can not fully appreciate the reference — though I have seen a lot of “floating horse heads” in paintings, now that you mention it. perhaps there is some “deep psychology” going on here (undoubtedly Freudian)

    Though it is understandable if one is trying to make a living off art, I think some artists take that to the extreme and let the market dictate what they paint. (even the “great” artists like Picasso are not immune. In fact, they may be even more susceptible in the later years (Julie).

    As with pretty much any endeavor, “letting other people decide” what you do is basically the death knell for creativity and spontaneity.

    Me, I never let anyone decide what to do or how to do it — not even the people who know better, which is why so much of what i do is garbage. :)

  4. Larry Jewett says:

    By the way, in reference to your statement about “Bison just standing around” (waiting to get shot, which is why there are so few left, of course), have you thought of painting a Bison on its hind legs? or doing a handstand? or doing a giant circle on the high bar?

    Oops, I believe Gary Larson (Far Side) already did that (with cows, at least).

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