Research Observations: the dangers of thinking


20/01/2017: 15:05

  • Interdisciplinary similarities:

    It always surprises me how the same observations and rules of thumb are often as relevant, and appropriate when applied to an activity such as Writing, as they were when discovered and applied in their original context: Painting.

    When editing paragraphs, it is so often the case that in order to articulate oneself most successfully and succinctly, one has to omit the very sentence they’re fond of most.

    So often when trying to resolve a painting we must destroy the very element we like most about the piece.  In search of resolving a painting, one re-works and re-works the entire piece with the exception of our favourite part, resulting in an uneven composition. When our hand is forced to re-work our favourite element it is staggering just how quickly a piece can come together. (Research Observations, 13/01/17)

  • Emotional language:

    There is a danger when writing about ones own practice, or from ones own experience to become over emotional in the language they use to describe and analyse their work. When writing academically it’s important to maintain a distance from the work and articulate ones point dispassionately.


  • Thinking too much:

    In his book ‘What Painting Is’, James Elkins issues a stark warning over the dangers of ‘over-analysis’, of the many subtleties surrounding the creative process. On consulting the artist Frank Auerbach on a number of chapters for the book, Auerbach suggests that one can become ‘too conscious’ of  what one is doing and the processes at work in the studio. He writes;

    “…the whole subject makes me extremely nervous. As soon as I become consciously aware of what the paint is doing my involvement with the painting is weakened. Paint is at its most eloquent when it is a by-product of some corporeal, spatial, developing imaginative concept, a creative identification with the subject”.

    This is a beautifully eloquent warning of the dangers of thinking too much. Expanding on Auerbach’s warning, Elkins writes;

    “The analysis of paint is a danger for any painter: those who get too analytic about paint – who get involved in picking just the right exotic oil, or finding the latest Nepalese drawing paper – risk drifting away from what Auerbach calls, ‘the creative identification with the subject'”.

    I think what Auerbach is warning about, and what Elkins heeds so graciosuly, is that their is a kind of magic, a mystery surrounding the nature of creativity, an elusiveness to it, and in our haste to understand and define it, we are in danger of loosing the very attraction that draws us to the studio so deeply.

    This is a point with which I can relate most deeply. In my own research I am wrestling with some of the most intangible and elusive creative acts such as Improvisation. The Improvisational Guitarist Derek Bailey went as far as to describe how; “any attempt to describe improvisation must be, in some respects, a misrepresentation, for there is something central to the spirit of voluntary improvisation which is opposed to the aims and contradicts the idea of documentation”.

    The task is therefore, to strike a balance: to acquire an awareness and working understanding, without the temptation of over-intellectualising the process, and in so doing, loosing ones ‘creative identification with the subject’, as Auerbach so beautifully put it.

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