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Risking Failure
As artists, adrift in a virtual sea of media possibilities, we tend to take for granted the almost total lack of artistic limitations today. In fact, we tend to flee from them by (often unthinkingly) re-imposing all kinds of limitations upon our work and ourselves. We choose to work in oils (nothing else) and on stretched canvas (is there anything else?), inside rectilinear frames with a limited palette of colours, painting only landscapes with an occasional, daring, dip of one toe into (gasp) Impressionism!!! Ladies and gentlemen, this is pretty timid art! Part of it is that we find something we like, something we're good at, something we feel "safe" doing, and we do it...and do it...and do it to death! There are artists amongst us (good artists too, by the way), who have not risked failure in their work since the day they sold their first painting. Even those amongst us painting non-representationally are guilty of this unpardonable sin. Maybe it would help if Mutual of Omaha wrote insurance policies that would repay the artists for their time and effort in the event they tried something new and fell flat on their collective faces.

How many of you ever invented a completely new art medium? How many of you ever invented a new style of painting? How many of you have completely changed your style of painting a half-dozen or so times during your life? How many of you can work as well in drawing, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, and collage as you do in your precious oils. How many of you have ever studied art history by dipping your brush and painting it? How many of you even know whom I'm talking about here? I thought not. It would seem that the legend of Pablo Picasso is pretty safe. Picasso has not one but two new art mediums to his credit--collage and found-object sculpture. His (along with Braque's) invention of Cubism was heralded as a breakthrough in painting almost before his efforts were dry. Travelling a path from Norman Rockwell genre realism in his teens to an abstract, iconography so distinctive it could be spotted literally a mile away (as in his Chicago Civic Center Sculpture), Picasso had more periods and permutations than the proverbial McGuffey Primer.

Picasso may well have been the first artist to see all art mediums as interrelated. When he sculpted, he painted on his sculpture. When he threw pots, he sculpted them, when he drew, he added paint to the drawing, when he painted, he cut paper, or any other material that might be handy, and incorporated that into his masterpiece. And when he failed, he laughed at himself and gave the work a self-deprecating title, then hung it on the wall to remind himself that he was not God, he only behaved that way. And when he studied the work of other painters, such as Degas, Poussin, Rembrandt, Velázquez, or Manet (to name only a few), he rendered painted monuments in their names. I'm not sure if Picasso invented the term "mixed-media" but if not, then it was most likely his work they were referring to. His oeuvre is full of individual works in two, three, sometimes even four different mediums. Here was a man who not only swam in the ocean of unlimited media possibilities, he pushed back the shoreline to broaden those possibilities for all of us. Yet, if and when, we forsake safe confines of our swimming pools for the wide-open beach, we tend to wade in only up to our knees and flee to the shore at the first sign of a wave.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
14 April 1999


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