Summoning the muse

We are fortunate to have the work of Richard Diebenkorn as an example of how any topic close to us can become the foundation for painting.

Diebenkorn – Seawall 1957

Source: Wikipaintings

I can’t recall where I first found Diebenkorn’s Notes to myself before starting a painting, but I have noticed several artists quoting them on blogs and websites. Rather than repeat them, here are some web links that show the notes in their entirety.  good follow-up discussion here

A few notes puzzle me. Instead of simply holding them in high esteem, engaging with the notes might shed some light on their meaning, and on my own approach to art. I’ll call this exercise Playing with Diebenkorn. It is probably the antithesis of what he intended in writing this list.

Starting in reverse order:

#10 – Be careful only in a perverse way.

After looking at the meaning of the individual words, I’ve interpreted this note to mean taking care to deviate where necessary to bring life and energy to your work. My reasons?

After checking a few dictionaries, one gives the following definition for perverse: deliberately deviating from what is regarded as normal, good, or proper – source:

#9 Tolerate Chaos.

That’s easy – I live and work in chaos.  But I really don’t feel good about it and am always thinking of ways to be more orderly. They rarely work.

#8 – Keep thinking about Polyanna.

This one’s difficult, as we really don’t know which aspect of her life he’s referring to – her general good nature or the accident which paralyzed her. He could be referring to the Polyanna principle, outlined here:

This seems to imply that one should not get overly optimistic – a difficult task, especially when we hear good things about our work.

So, how does being optimistic fit into the list? (pleased that things are actually going well with our work, or optimistic that it will sell, or create the impact that will bring recognition?) Any of these could be the desire of the working artist. Just don’t get too cheerful about anything? Isn’t that what we call being “positive” these days? Or, does he mean that if we are optimistic, those around us will be optimistic also? I need more help with this, and welcome your comments.


About dorothydoherty

Visual artist
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