Suspension of Disbelief

Lately I’ve noticed that suspension of disbelief is critical to my painting. It’s one of those things I discovered by watching somebody else work.

A fellow painter, who had just added some pink to the foreground of a beach scene, stepped back and I heard her say: “No. No. It’s not right.” She reached for a rag to wipe away the offending color before the acrylic paint became permanent.

I realized that I have a different response to “mistakes.” As long as it’s not the “how did that white get on the brush with my nice rich ultramarine blue?” sort of mistake (which DOES require a quick “erasure”), I take an uncharacteristically optimistic view of errors.

“Hmmmmm,” I think (or often say out loud.) “That’s not quite it, but if I add a little green…And that pink might look nice just peeking through the next layer. I’ll work on that when it dries.”

I realize that what I’m doing is suspending disbelief. I don’t consider (or rarely consider) the possibility that I might fail; the idea that there is a “wrong” and, boy, have I hit it; the idea that a mistake is absolute and has no redeeming qualities.

Gretchen, the first art teacher of my adult art career, was opposed to throwing away any of your work. Scribbles, tests, sketches, failures. They all had some intrinsic value, she claimed. I’m not ready to go that far…my house is too small. But I’ve come to believe that each of your brush strokes – no matter how off-base, wrong-colored, too strong, too weak, too whatever – can contribute to the totality of the painting.

So, I’m suspending disbelief, living a world of possibilities, whenever I paint. It’s a pretty healthy place to hang out, especially for somebody as naturally skeptical and pessimistic as I am. In fact, I highly recommend it for everybody, painter or not. Try it when you do whatever work you love.

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