Thursday, April 08, 2010

"Remember, learn diligence before speedy execution." - - Leonardo Da Vinci

I ran across a few quotes that really struck me while I was perusing a book on painting. They were quotes from artists, but the similarities between what a painter thinks and sees and the conclusions the wisest of them reach are not that different than those a writer might do well to ponder.

Like the one above from Leonardo Da Vinci that bears repeating: "Remember, learn diligence before speedy execution."

This is one thing that worries me about the goals we make. So often, they have to do with production and not learning. Perhaps words and pages are to a writer as brush strokes are to a painter. If that is so, then isn't the finished (and true to the vision) product the goal, not how many strokes it took to get there, not how many days or weeks it took to cover the canvas with paint? By putting the emphasis on the tangible goal of completing something in a timely manner before our attention span fizzles away, maybe we're missing the point or maybe the point is simply understood -- to do the best we can do within the confines of our talent, our expertise and the inevitable deadlines imposed by commercial and personal challenges.

Here's another one: "Some say they see poetry in my paintings. I see only science." Georges Seurat

I think many of us have felt this way, too. We put so much energy into saying something right. You know what I mean. The right grammar, the right sentence structure, the right black moment or character arc or hook. It's like a model has to think, "Find the right light, watch it, don't scrunch the shoulders and loose the neck, what's my foot doing, where are my hands, do my eyes look fierce?, bend my leg -- " all in an instant before the photographer snaps the photo. I sometimes feel this way when I write -- it's like the more I know, the more I need to remember to use it correctly and yet have it appear effortless and instinctual. Oh, and fun!

I'll leave you with one more:

"Find out what you like if you can. Find out what is really important to you. You will have something to sing about and your whole heart will be in the singing." -- Robert Henri

Have a favorite quote that transcends genres or mediums? Think I'm comparing apples and oranges? Maybe I'm trying to compare great painters with commercial artists and literary works of art with pop culture writing. Maybe the similarities blur although I doubt any of us set out to create mediocrity. Any thoughts?


Lisa Leoni said...

Great quotes and paintings! Fun post :) This really struck me: This is one thing that worries me about the goals we make. So often, they have to do with production and not learning.

So very true! When thinking about my own goals, they are all about output, not learning. Gives me something to think about :)

Katie said...

This was a really lovely post, well executed and interesting. I enjoyed it. ^_^

The line that Lisa quoted is the one that struck me, too! But for me it's a bit different. I'm still learning so much, being young and coming to big turning points in my life. I feel like I can't possibly have an output, because I don't know enough yet.

I've shifted my focus now to correct this. I'm not going to worry over every word and scene now. I realized that it's better to write imperfectly. This way, I'm not agonizing over every detail and feeling like a failure before I pick up a pen. It's freeing, even if reading back over it makes me laugh in embarrassment. But I refuse to fix it (which is why I'm handwriting right now, instead of typing it) until it's totally finished. Then I can apply all the little tricks and tools to it.

Writing is a process. A difficult one. But it doesn't matter how many layers of paint there are, because you can always fix it. (beat that into my head 20 times, okay?)

Thanks, Alice. :)

Paty Jager said...

Alice, Once again a wonderful thought provoking post.

I think these quotes are true to any creative endeavor. And writing is a creative endeavor.

I have edits from the editor for my contemporary. Wow! Is she putting me through the paces! This is a definite learning process for me. And while I grumble- the things she's requesting are making this a better story and giving me ways to look at the next project I write with a different eye.

It's like learning a new brush technique and while I'm practicing it on this book, I hope it becomes a learned tool I can use for the next book.

I haven't written a word on the new project for two weeks, but I still consider myself working on it as it stews and brews in my head and I continue gathering research. So I'm at the stage of pushing out words isn't a goal, refining the characters and learning the setting is my goal.

Katie, in the beginning you have to give yourself permission to just gush it all out, then go in and refine it. So you're on the right track. There is no better feeling than writing "The End" and knowing you can go back in and touch it up with finer strokes or slosh on a whole new color and redefine things.

Genene Valleau said...

As always, Alice, I enjoy the wisdom in your posts.

I think "great painters," "commercial artists," "literary works of art," and "pop culture writing" are just labels. Some of what others consider "great" or "literary" I wouldn't waste 25 cents for at a garage sale. Yet art or books that others consider "trash" totally resonate with me. What that says to me is that people have different tastes. Not right or wrong; not great or trashy; just different.

And sometimes our tastes change. Things I enjoyed a couple decades ago don't appeal to me now. However, other things always tug at my heart. I don't have a painting by someone who is considered a "great" artist, but I have pictures my grown children did in the first grade. Still love them!

Some people may think that doesn't count, because there's an emotional attachment. But don't we want our stories or paintings or other creative efforts to generate an emotional response in others?

Katie, I like your attitude that writing is a process and can be revised. However, I've discovered if the words aren't flowing (or one of my other creative projects aren't "on target"), it's because I'm blocking or resisting my creative process--or totally missing something obvious that I need to pay attention to before I can move forward. Or I need to learn something. :)

So back to goals and deadlines and mediocrity. I do try to do my best with each story I write. Goals make me face the reality that I can't write 75,000 words in one day. And deadlines give me that kick in the fanny to stay on track and not procrastinate (like I'm doing with my taxes right now).

Does that mean sometimes learning gets pushed aside to make a deadline? Perhaps it does for one story or two. But it usually doesn't take long to catch up with me. A critique partner or, heaven forbid, a reviewer or reader makes a comment that hits home and I'm face to face with what I already knew: I didn't take the time I should have to dig deeper, to crank the tension higher, to escalate the conflict.

I learned, but the price was higher than it could have been if I had taken the time while I was putting words to paper.

So, Alice, thanks for the reminder that goals and deadlines can be great tools to help us finish a product. However, they shouldn't take away from making the best product we can.

Alice Sharpe said...

Lisa -- I love all these paintings. Did you ever see the movie either narrated by or starring Mandy Patikin where they somehow "illustrate" this painting. Obviously I'm a little vague on the details....

Well, it's a slippery slope, right? You learn by DOING. I was just musing. Someone needs to tell me to stop!

Glad to see you here, thanks for checking in!

Alice Sharpe said...

beat, beat, beat, beat, beat X 5 = 100 times. Again, however, we learn by doing. I think it's putting the pressure to be perfect when we're still learning that gets crazy, but with art, what is perfection, what is learning, what is anything?

Confusing, no?

And, yep, you're young, but you're talented, so go for it.

Alice Sharpe said...

Well put, Paty!!!

I am so glad you have a good editor! I want an editor who pushes me! I think that's wonderful. Learn, learn, learn, you're right, you will be able to take these new strokes and build on them right into the future.

I'm excited for you!

Alice Sharpe said...

Genene -- Try as I might, I can't imagine you ever doing anything you don't invest your heart into. Sorry, can't see it.

And you are so right. I understand the irony of me saying this, of me writing about learning vs meeting a deadline. I am guilty os this big time. I think many times we work out our own angst in these blogs...


Genene Valleau said...

"I think many times we work out our own angst in these blogs..."

I agree! That means we're constantly learning and getting feedback from others we trust to support us and offer other perspectives to consider.

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Piper Lee said...

Alice- I loved your post. It was very eloquent. And I, like Lisa and Katie, was struck by the same line. Loved that too!

Here are two of my favorite quotes. These women are just brilliant and such pillars of knowledge. I think they really "get it". Read on...

"I think that the film Clueless was very deep. I think it was deep in the way that it was very light. I think lightness has to come from a very deep place if it's true lightness."
- Alicia Silverstone, Actress

"I get to go to lots of overseas places, like Canada."
- Britney Spears

Their mothers should be so proud. :)

But seriously, I really loved your post.

Alice Sharpe said...

Piper, LOL, those gals sure ain't no Katie!

Thanks for the nice words (and I loved the quotes.)

Katie said...

Yeah, I'm pretty much perfect. And smart. And really humble, too. Everyone wants to be me.


Elisabeth Naughton said...

Hush, Piper. I LOVED Clueless.

"I have a shotgun and a shovel. I doubt you'll be missed."

Alice this is going to show you the era I grew up in, but whenever I see the 2nd painting, I see Ferris Beuler's Day off. Specifically the scene when they're in the art gallery and they're staring at that painting.

I can't think of any quotes off the top of my head, but I love all the ones you posted.

Alice Sharpe said...

Elisabeth -- I'd forgotten about that scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off -- I loved it, too, and I loved Clueless so much I actually bought the movie. Priceless.

On reading it again, don't you think Alicia Silverstone's quote actually kind of almost makes sense?

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Actually, Alice...I do. LOL. I didn't want to say anything because I know the quote was meant to be funny, but I think Alicia Silverstone's quote about Clueless wasn't far off the mark.