Don’t Be Afraid to “Fix” Your Bad Paintings

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Before I was happy, I painted the above painting 4 times.

“The secret of joy in work is contained in one word–excellence.  To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.” – Pearl S. Buck

You know, it is almost humorous the way that we would rather stick with a bad painting that we have created than risk improving it. Moving into the improvement zone is really scary. Often, we look at what we have done and we say, “Welllllllll, hmph!  I guess it is ok.”  Or we might even say, “Ugh! That’s terrible!”  Either way, we would rather leave it there–in its less than glorious state–than try to fix it.

No doubt, we reason with ourselves that if we try to fix it, we might ruin it. “Ruin what?”  A terrible painting–that’s no loss.  My bad paintings land in the compost pile anyway; what do you do with yours?  I don’t recommend that you frame your disappointments and hang them.  Every time that you walk into the room, a bad painting will scream at you “You are a terrible painter!”  None of us needs that.  We need just the opposite–something screaming, “You are a great painter!”

Go beyond your ok toward your great.  Knowing that eventually I can slug on through the abyss and finally produce something worth saving, I am happy to compost 100 bad paintings,  or more.  I challenge you to do the same.

“The secret of joy in work is contained in one word–excellence.  To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.” – Pearl S. Buck

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How Does A Painting Mean? December River – A Jacki Kellum Watercolor in Tribute to Joni Mitchell’s River

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December River – Watercolor Painted by Jacki Kellum – December 1, 2014

River by Joni Mitchell

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

40 years ago, I was fortunate to sit in the audience of Poet John Ciardi and hear him discuss his recently published book How Does A Poem Mean?  I could not tell you anything that Ciardi said that day; but since that time, the title of Ciardi’s book has echoed within me:  How Does A Poem Mean?  During the past week, I have created two paintings; and for some reason, I have been more aware than usual of how both those paintings came to mean.

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Thanksgiving Across the Lake – Watercolor Painted by Jacki Kellum

When I was alone for Thanksgiving, remembering Thanksgivings of my past–a time when family, hearth, and home seemed to glow a great deal more than they do for me now,  I painted Thanksgiving Across the Lake.  I could write the long version of this post, explaining in detail that the painting and its meaning grew AS I painted it; but I’ll summarize by assuring you that I did not realize exactly what I was painting nor why until I completed the work.   By the end of the painting session [not before then], I knew how the final painting would look; I knew what the title would be; and I knew what the painting would mean.  The “evergreen” trees are hardly green at all.  The Thanksgiving colors dance around the page; but the most warmth–the greatest glow is not in the center of attention–not in the main grove of trees [where I am standing].  The golden and glowing warmth of Thanksgiving was within sight but not where I was.  I knew Thanksgiving was there; but I could not touch it or attain it in any way.

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December River is the full scale version of a study that I have painted several times during the past month.  I named the studies Paint the Blues Away; and I even wrote a blog explaining how I use the color red to flush life and vitality into my work.  I wanted to complete the full painting before I moved on to something else; and December 1 seemed like a good day to do a wintry scene.  As I painted the creek or the river that is snaking its way across the snow, I thought about Joni Mitchell’s song River.  I consider Joni Mitchell to be the greatest poet of my generation; and every time I hear her sing River, tears well in my eyes.

Not wanting to try to ride on Joni’s coat tail, I initially decided to just name my painting December 1; but in writing this post, I decided to be totally honest.  My painting means more than December 1.  I am not Kandinsky; and my paintings are more than mere numbers.  My painting December River means that I, too, wish I had a River I could skate away on……Thank you, Joni Mitchell.  No one has said it better than you.

I do not want to be the prophet of doom; but both of my last two paintings have been a reaction to the holidays and to my own feelings of aloneness during this time.  Yet, on a more positive level–on an art-as-therapy level–perhaps my art [both my visual art and my writing] are my River that I do skate away on.

During this past month, while I was repeatedly painting Paint the Blues Away, a friend asked me if I was depressed.  I answered that I was actually less depressed than usual. When I am totally mired in depression, I do not paint at all.  Again, my art probably Is my River that I Skate Away On…..

Some artists claim that their work is nonrepresentational.  In fact, because he wanted to stress that his latter works were nonrepresentational, Kandinsky titled them as numbers. He wanted to emphasize that the paintings were not linked to any visual reference

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Although some artsits say that their work has no relationship to meaning of any kind, my work is not nonrepresentational.  My paintings do mean.  Because of the intuititive process of my work, I normally do not know what my paintings mean until I have completed them. But I ultimately want my paintings to mean.  If a painting never means, I abandon it.

Like most people, I wear masks for the general public.  I think and I feel much more than a casual observer might realize.  My art is a way that I allow people to peel away my camouflage and glimpse into my heart and mind.  I also write.  At the time of writing this post, I have over 200 blog sites.  I write everyday; and I essentially have masters degrees in both visual art and writing. But when I write, I leave very little mask at all–I literally spell it out.  With my paintings, there is a bit of a masquerade–a penetrable mask–but still a disguise.

Like an onion, my paintings have layers of meaning.  I initially trained as an abstract expressionist–but even in those first, abstract pieces, my paintings always meant something to me.  The messages of my abstract paintngs were very obscure; but through the titles, I hoped that the viewer would understand the paintings’ meanings.  I didn’t pursue abstraction long enough to be a good abstract painter.  For the past several years, my work has been representational; and the outward images seem very simple–too simple.  Because beneath the simple, outward layer, there are other levels [perhaps hidden beneath the simplicity], the overly simplistic nature of my current work is probably the greatest abstraction of all.   When I am honest, the titles that I give my work [words, again] are still the keys to understanding how my paintings mean.

Yesterday I took one of those simple Rorshach-like and/or psychological tests that I frequently see posted on Facebook.  poemtest

After answering all of the questions as truthfully as I could, the results said that I am a Poem.

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I would not say that I am a masterpiece of any kind; but I am definitey introspective, emotional, and imaginative.  I frequently blog about how my intuition creates my work through me.  I have often said that watercolor is the poetry of art mediums. Delicate and sensuous–watercolor whispers.  No doubt, that is why I primarily express in watercolor now.  I am capable of screaming; but in my experience, more people listen when I whisper.