Over the last few month, when I meet up with friends I haven’t seen for a while, and we exchange pleasantries, we talk about what we have each been up to. Quite often, we have been following each other on social media, and so we have a pretty good idea of the other’s activities. Sometimes though, my heart sinks when my friends say something like
‘I’ve seen your paintings on Facebook/Instagram, wow, you’re really CHURNING IT OUT!’
This is true, to a certain extent. Yes, I have been making a lot of work, I agree. I have been incredibly productive, and I have been sharing my work and my processes with my adoring fans(!) on social media. But please don’t say that I’m churning it out! NOOOO!
To churn means to mindlessly, repetitively and mechanically make something, in bulk, with not much thought, concept or skill involved. Which would make terrible art.
Maybe I am getting too defensive, but I feel like I need to explain myself, and show how/why I make a LOT of work visible online.
When I am in my studio (which is my house) I am aware that I have a certain number of hours in the day to get stuff done. I have massive lists of ideas, many sketchbooks and notebooks, and I am always thinking of new stuff I’d like to explore. So, my first problem is selecting what are the great ideas from what are the okay ones and the crap ones. Some ideas are great, but I just don’t have the time to do everything, so they get put aside for a day when I am stuck for an idea. (I haven’t had a day like that yet, luckily for me! I am positively brimming with ‘what if I did this?’ and ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do that?’).
I paint fast, once I do choose something I want to explore. I can paint fast because I have spent years and years practicing my skills almost everyday, and although I am not the best painter ever (all artists are constantly seeking to improve) I’m speedy because my decision making process has become more efficient and my hand-eye coordination is now more fine tuned.
A canvas that might take me 2 or 3 hours to physically paint (not including the thinking and researching time beforehand) would probably have taken a few days when I started out of University 16 (!) years ago.
By the way – faster painting doesn’t mean that the work should be cheaper. See this quote from Picasso here.
Lots of artists edit their work and only allow a selection of what they make to be seen outside of the studio, but I like to share my work as and when it happens, primarily on Instagram, but also on twitter, Facebook, etc. Later, when it comes to exhibition time, I choose just the right artwork for the right place, but when working in the studio I am too busy making to stop the creative flow, and think ‘is this ok?’ Also, it builds an honest picture of my output, for people to see my processes and the way I move from one subject to the next. The vast majority of what I make I am happy to let people see. And if I change my mind, that’s fine, I don’t have to show it, and I can always delete it later from my online galleries if I want. (Though I don’t delete from social media, as that’s too 1984!)
So, to conclude: I’m not going to slow down on making work as there are already constraining factors (such as childcare responsibilities) that limit my studio time. And if you see me in real life, please don’t say ‘You’re really churning it out!’, say,
‘Gosh, what a lot of exciting work you’re making!’