This Post is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Find out how you can be a guest author.
Michael Kimmelman, an influential New York art critic is attributed to have said (as quoted by Jove Wang), "Most artists have one good idea, sometimes two. But in the best of cases, that's enough for a lifetime."
Many artists, myself included, shudder at the thought of being stuck in a rut, just rehashing the same thing over and over again. However, recently I have realized that I really could spend a lifetime exploring the few best ideas I have. In my case, it is about the spiritual connection to the landscape. There are enough facets to that idea, that I could never exhaust the possibilities. It took a while for me to look deep enough into myself to find that one voice that I was so passionate about. Even within that larger idea of landscape, there are certain subjects that I revisit over and over again. One specific example is aspen trees. There is an enchantment within a grove of aspens. They are intriguing. I could fill pages just describing my fascination with them. But that's another topic.
Many artists refuse to focus on one idea for fear of being labeled. Artists often have so many ideas that they want to explore all of them. These are valid concerns.
Yes, I admit that I would love to explore other things. I would love to do intaglio or sculpt. The processes appeal to me. They are fascinating. I see the figurative works of others and wish that I could paint like that. Sometimes I see a painting and wish that I would have had that idea. And like other artists, I do play around with other subjects and media. I do so simply to get my creative juices flowing. Interestingly, however, I always come back to the landscape.
Regardless of how fun and it is to explore other ideas, they simply don't inspire the same passion in me as the landscape. But all is not lost. These explorations are enlightening and are a great diversion. Some of the insights I gained while playing around with other things inevitably give me greater ability to express my idea within the landscape.
My point is this: don't be afraid to revisit the ideas that you are most passionate about. If they are true passions, you will always have something else to say about them. Use the exploration of other things as a means to understand yourself and how you respond to your muse. But don't let all of the lesser ideas distract you from expressing those most important ideas. You must make it a matter of priority. These lesser ideas will strengthen your larger, truly great ideas, if you use them with wisdom. But, I repeat, don't allow yourself to be distracted by the lesser ideas.
Your deepest passions, your truest convictions, those things that you most want to express in your art are the things you should come back to time after time. As you go deeper into those subjects, you will learn more about them and you will learn more about yourself. Your ideas will become much more profound. They will cumulatively be much more powerful than a single visit to the idea.
Consider Rembrandt, who is arguably among the greatest painters of all time. His self portraits will always come to mind before his other works. They are his most inspired. They are powerfully moving and inspiring.
What about Monet, or Degas? Monet will always be remembered by his haystacks or water lilies. Degas for his ballerinas. Does this make them lesser artists? On the contrary, I believe that they are in part placed in such prominence today because they were not afraid to thoroughly explore these ideas. What would the impact be if Rembrandt only painted his self portrait once? What would the impact be if Degas only painted one ballerina or if Monet only painted one haystack? They had more to say about their respective ideas. They were fascinated by the variations of those ideas. They were enlightened each time they painted them, and thereby we benefit now. We are enlightened and enriched by seeing how these ideas evolved and how they explored different facets of them.
Lori wrote a while ago about finding a rut that you are comfortable with. Make this 'rut' your greatest idea. Rather, find your greatest idea, and then don't worry if it becomes a rut. It will be enlightening to you and to your collectors as you reach deeper and deeper into the possibilities.
PS If the sole motivation to revisit certain ideas is monetary, your work will be shallow. Revisit only the ideas that truly move you. Revisit the ones that you are passionate about. If you do, your work will be more satisfying and meaningful.