Ralph More/Time-Life Pictures

In a 2008 New Yorker profile, artist John Currin said something about the process of painting that knocked us out because it is SO much about improvising, about making anything where you’re not entirely sure where you’re going:

“…a big part of painting is getting used to things not looking good while you’re working on them. “

A really big part of improvising/making/creating is getting used to things not looking good while you’re working on them. We suspect that is one of the reasons why improvising is difficult for some people:

They’re uncomfortable in the mid-point when things haven’t come together yet, when things look or feel like a mess. Getting used to that unresolved place is essential. At first, it requires faith that things will come together, and patience with the process. After you’ve worked through that a few times, you begin to realize that the wild unkempt place is only a step along the way, and that the answers always come – although sometimes in forms you don’t expect.

We don’t know anybody that doesn’t lose faith in the process here and there. It’s one of the reason’s we collect photos of the messy work spaces of brilliant people – like this one of Einstein’s office taken hours after he died. We need reminders when we lose faith ourselves, and our place or a project seems a big fat mess…

….when really it’s just on the way to becoming…

Photo’s of Einstein’s office via Kottke.

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5 replies on “on things “not looking good while you’re working on them”

  1. The same could be said of life, I think! A bit messy on its way to becoming….

  2. I create and teach art. My students frequently assume that their work should look “good” at each stage in the process. To most good means polished, smooth and easy to read. Because they are new to art they have no bank of pictures in their minds of what process looks like. They only have images a blank surface and finished product in their mind’s eye. When they see their in-process work they think something went wrong. Students will usually prefer throwing away their in-process (mistakes as they see them) rather than erasing or drawing over the “mistakes”. I tell them to think about creating a drawing as making a cake. It looks really different when being mixed in the bowl than when baked, plated and decorated with icing. Due to their youth and inexperience my students are a long way off from appreciating the fecund beauty of the process, but some will be lucky enough to get there. Those who do, will find that the messy process is the most exciting place to be.

  3. What an amazing comment; you really described it…that place and that fear. It’s so great that you’re there to help them navigate their way through. BTW. how old are your students?

  4. YES! This is simply & profoundly true but I have never heard anyone speak of or write on it before. I am a professional artist doing product design. Consumers would be shocked to see the steps we go through to come up with great product. Some of it looks just awful while in process, never mind the mess in the studio while a major project is underway. And if you stop to clean it up too early the whole magical process is ruined. Hurrahs and handclaps for you and your approach to life well lived.

    I just discovered your blog via the Splendid Table and am captivated. Would it be okay for me to post a link to it on mine?

    I devoured your book and it changed the way I cook. Call me a fan. Grin.

  5. Thank you, deeply for your comments, Sharyn. And we would be honored for you to post a link…

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