Many of you are probably already subscribers to Robert Genn’s excellent Painter’s Keys, but if you’re not, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Even if your process doesn’t include any painting whatsoever, the insights expressed often apply to any form of art practice. Some of the posts have more resonance for me than others, providing solutions to problems or new ways of looking at various matters. The latest one, The Puzzle System, is great for several reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a validation of my own working process – a process which at times can make me wonder if I shouldn’t try harder to be a better or different person.
Genn talks about motivation being a problem for people who work intuitively, which I do. Subscribers write to him expressing their respective feelings of dissatisfaction with their own work. The common thread with these particular artists appears to be their lack of knowing where to go next, which leads to lack of motivation. Genn experiences a flash of insight into the problem while at the airport. He notices a fellow traveler working on a crossword puzzle who suddenly sets it aside but appears to be happy with her decision to do so. He realizes that it’s not just in finishing something that we find satisfaction, but also in the process. He goes on to explain:
In painting, I use the puzzle system. I commit myself to one stroke or another at the beginning, then look around to see what my next move might be. Thus, I go from move to move – working out the puzzle – until it’s either completed or abandoned.
The puzzle system starts with the proposition that you may not know what to do. The nice part is that, deep down, you have the feeling that you can figure it out. The system draws heavily on the skills of focus and concentration, as well as your accumulated knowledge of techniques and processes. A logical order may be desirable but … things can go this way or that. In other words, plenty of opportunities for intuition develop during the game. Further, the process is both additive and subtractive. Things you thought you needed turn out not to be needed; and things you didn’t know were needed are suddenly seen to be needed. Balancing it all is quite an art.
This is exactly what I do and how I conquer my own inertia when I don’t feel motivated. Just go into the studio and work on something. I always find that one mark leads to another, and pretty soon things are going along just fine. Having multiple things in progress is also a great help, so I have choices if one particular thing isn’t calling to me at a given moment. As Woody Allen said, “80 percent of life is showing up.”