What to do if it's not working

One of the things I do to in order to procrastinate is to make Artist Trading Cards (ATCs), which you should definitely go read about here.

I'm engaged in a short-term exchange with a small group of artists who signed on to play the game, as outlined in the linked post above: I send them two ATCs — one by me, one by one of their fellows — and three blanks.  They make three cards, keep one, mail two back to me.  I keep one of those and send the other one off to the next artist.

I tend to do mine in series, making ten at a time, and recently I thought of a series called "Random Messages."  It presented itself when I found a card on my art table with a couple of clippings from an ancient encyclopedia randomly strewn on it.

(Is deliberately making a card random a contradiction in terms?  Probably.  Meh.)

Today I began to work on the series in earnest, and thus begins today's lesson.



It's ugly.  It's not balanced, it's trying too hard, it lacks that strange quality that a mysteriously random message would have.

I could go straight to ABANDONMENT — and it's important to remember that ABANDONMENT is always an option — but I'd rather work my way through SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION first.

But how?

Here's a neat trick, especially when the stakes are so low.  (We are talking about a piece of cardboard 2.5x3.5 inches, after all, not a huge canvas with hundreds of dollars of worth of oil paint...)

Destroy it.

Mess it up.

Break it.

The point is to disrupt what you've done so that you can circle back around through GESTALT and see something new.

Yep, that's different.  It's no better, but it's different.

I could keep going, adding layers and blobs and mistakes, but it's getting further and further away from what I had envisioned for the series.  It's too messy, not mysterious enough.

Start over, with a random scribble:

And already I don't like it.  ABANDON!

So I backtrack.  Go for utter simplicity:

There we go.

This is going to be the thing.

Now clearly it's not always possible to destroy what you're working on in order to improve it, but you should always keep the strategy in mind.  I've been known, when stuck in a piece of music, to start completely over or start a new section with something shouldn't be in the piece at all: a new theme, a bizarre instrumentation, some raucous interruption.  Et voilà, it breaks up whatever logjam my brain has invented for itself, even if I discard the new bit.

I'd like to think that Dmitri Shostakovich did the same kind of thing in his Symphony No. 4, in the fourth movement.  If you fast forward the video to 45:45, you'll hear the piece settling in to a wistful little waltz, and then at 46:19, just as it sounds as if it's going to turn into a bolero or something...

... BAM! It sounds like Shostakovich took a big old eraser and scrubbed that idea right out of the music.

Destruction: It's not just for Götterdämmerung any more.