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The Conversation

by Mark Brockman on 12/13/2013 7:15:23 AM

This post is by guest author, Mark Brockman.  This article has been edited and published with the author's permission.  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here. We've promoted this post to feature status because it provides great value to the FineArtViews community.  If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 25,000+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  This author's views are entirely his own and may not always reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.


I was recently having this great conversation in my studio. It was one of those conversations that seemed be flawless, where there is nothing but mutual agreement. Now, sometimes these conversations in my studio are not so agreeable. There is disagreement, dissention, often we are very much at odds with each other. The conversation might get heated as we disagree on color or value or any of the other various aspects of a painting. Other times, as I just mentioned, we are in the same zone and compliment each other so well - it seems so right, we can do nothing wrong.


Now, do not think me crazy, but usually I am alone in my studio when having these conversations - at least, alone as far as other living beings are concerned. What I do have as company is the painting that I am working on at that time and it is with this particular painting that I am having a conversation with. If you happen to be standing outside my studio listening in you will not hear voices, there will be no harsh words or laughter, depending on how the conversation is progressing. The conversation I have with a given painting is all in silence.


At the beginning, I get to pick the subject of the conversation which happens to also be the subject of the painting. I get to make opening remarks as I begin the work. Then slowly at first, sometimes quietly, the painting begins to speak to me. As the painting progresses, the painting has more say, the conversation becomes two-sided. We discuss the colors or color used in a particular place, maybe the placement of objects or just one object, value is always discussed, as are the use of warm and cool colors. Then, of course, of there is the idea of the level of reality the painting is to be - this always get very interesting as the conversation moves on. There are also many other fine points that we may talk about.


Often, the conversation is congenial, we are in total agreement. Other times, the conversation gets heated as we disagree on so many things. Here is the problem: (well maybe it is not a problem) Usually the painting is always right when we disagree. In the end, if it does not happen to be one of our congenial discussions, I always wished I had listened to the painting. I need to learn to listen more then I sometimes do.


Now you might ask what about the subject that I am painting, does it not also have some say? Yes it does but remember the subject and the painting are one in the same. So it is not quite a two way or three way conversation, but then it is.


So often in my many years of teaching adults to paint, I see the student unwilling or unable (lack of experience perhaps) to have a conversation with their painting. They do not listen to what the painting is telling them - what it needs, what it wants, what will work. Often the painting knows what the artist does not. The student will try to put everything they see into the painting when the painting is telling them it is crowded in here. They will use colors or values that just do not get along, when the painting tells them that.  Yet, so often they do not listen. When the painting tells them to put a good dark here they do not, when it tells them that a particular spot could use a nice defined brush stroke they ignore it, when it says to put a sharp edge here, they do not hear. I know - I was that way myself.


Maybe this conversation thing seems a bit weird, but it works. I have learned after many years to try and listen to what my painting is telling me. I do not always succeed in listening but it is worth the effort. When the conversation like the one I had the other day goes well, then so does the painting. We need to listen to the work, it often has good ideas. Even if at first we do not agree, it is worth trying the idea. I have found that listening to my painting has helped me to a great degree in being more open and creative with the task at had.






Editor's Note:  You can view Mark's original post here.


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Topics: advice for artists | creativity | FineArtViews | Guest Posts | inspiration 

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Michael Cardosa
Hi Mark,

Enjoyed reading this! Thanks! After working alone for years and painting alone in my studio I'm not even sure if the conversations I have are silent or out loud sometimes. I guess it doesn't really matter that much unless I start to really hear voices back! :) You're absolutely right, the painting knows. It's like having a gut reaction to what to do in a situation, you should listen (of course mine rumbles a lot and I try to ignore that but I digress). We'd all be better painters if we paid attention.

Thanks again,


Judith Berlinger
Mark - I've always tried to listen to my paintings. But something was missing. I felt like a foreigner who doesn't know the native language. Once I began to build up my vocabulary I was able to hear what the painting was saying to me. Once I began to understand the poetry of this language, I felt like I was painting. Thanks so much for your sharing your insights. Judy

Marilyn rose
Mark, this is so useful! I've had the experience of my painting telling me what it needs and when I listen I'm happy with the result. So now when I approach a painting in progress I'm going to ask it what it wants me to do, and I'll trust its answer.
This is an excellent tool to pass on to my students as well - they will love it. Thanks!

I call this -letting the painting find me” - almajohn

I call this letting the painting find me - almajohn

Susan G Holland
Lovely, Mark. Sometimes the painting, given its say, will take an artist places he never knew existed! I have paintings I have never shown people-- they are so full of advice and revelation they are like top secret briefs. What use are they? Self knowledge, that's what!

Thanks for your post.

Robert Redus
Studio seems to be working, Brand New Materials, Paintings, and I'm wondering why inspiration wakes me up so early. "The Beauty awakens the soul to act.”

You are indeed Mark, our art work tells us what to do and this is the right way to do. Conversation exist but i do more believe that after paintings done we still need comments and reactions from audiences to make our paintings perfect. I trust more for other comments than conversation with my brush and other materials for my paintings!

Thanks for your post.


Robert Redus
Studio seems to be working, Brand New Materials, Paintings, and I'm wondering why inspiration wakes me up so early. "The Beauty awakens the soul to act.”

You are indeed Mark, our art work tells us what to do and this is the right way to do. Conversation exist but i do more believe that after paintings done we still need comments and reactions from audiences to make our paintings perfect. I trust more for other comments than conversation with my brush and other materials for my paintings!

Thanks for your post.


Mark brockman
Thanks all for the great comments. It is nice to know other have conversations with their work. What I did not say in the blog though, I wanted to keep it positive, was there are times the conversation is loud and not pleasant (you would not want to be outside my studio listening then) :) but then it is usually one sided and because I did not listen.

You are right Robert, once done the conversation switches from you and the painting to the viewer and the painting, and hopefully that conversation is also positive.

Brian Sherwin
Mark -- With your last comment in mind... it is important for the artist to make sure that the 'conversation' with his or her work is truly finished before selling the work. James Rosenquist once told me that he bought some of the first paintings he sold back decades later because he had always felt he could have pushed them further. As I recall, he purchased them... and then finished them. ;p

mark Brockman
Trouble is the 'conversation' is never finished, nor is a painting ever truly finished. I have re-worked old paintings, it is not an unusual practice with the artists I know. So the 'conversation' does not end it just gets put on hold, sometimes temporarily and sometimes... well who knows. I like the idea that the 'conversation' could start again.

Robert Redus
Yes, you are right Mark once the panting stop the conversation also stop but then, if you sell it and the artist bought them the conversation ahead will start again and continue if the painting tells him/her to add or make some adjustments. I believe that conversation never stop!...

Have a wonderful Christmas to all!!!


Brian Sherwin
Mark -- Good point. That age old question... 'when is a painting finished?'. :) I suppose my point is that an artist should not market the work until he or she is truly comfortable letting it go. Take the 'conversation' as far as you can before selling the work.

All add that working with a series in mind can help an artist to push that 'conversation' further if needed. I know some artists are 'iffy' about working with a series in mind... but it is an excellent way to get a real grasp on an idea visually.

Just thinking. By the way, I hope everyone had a lovely day today. :)

mark Brockman
A painting is never finished, the artist needs to feel that they have done their best at that moment, (they can only be as good as they are at a given time) then show the work.

Working in a series can be a good thing, but not all series have to be as obvious as say Monet's hay stacks. If one works in landscape of a certain type that can be a series as well. Actually as I think about it most artists work in a series when working from similar subjects, say a portrait artist.

You are right the conversation never stops, even when the painting is framed and shown and maybe sold, every time the artist sees the work they will have a conversation with it. Hopefully the owner of the painting does a swell.


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