Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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08/10/2004: "When we revise, do we "deceive and lie"?"

I got an email from a guy wanting to buy the painting titled “Relics, 1917 (formerly known as Sandy Beach) because he really loved it. Trouble was, he was looking at an older version of it that was in my “works in progress” gallery. I never posted a photo of the version that made it into the show.

I sent him a photo of what it looks like now and he responded that it was “unfortunate” that I changed her and went on to comment about what he loved about the way I had it before that is no longer present in the painting. I wrote back about how the painting had been giving me troubles and that it had gone through various stages, sent him a link to the entry where I had several versions (altered in PhotoShop) posted for feedback…he responded, in part:

“When people are asked to give feedback and suggestions (regarding a creative process) they will offer a suggestion based upon their perception and their education. My issue with this is that in the truest sense of creativity you defeat the true purpose of creativity through suggestive influence. This defeats the original creative process and transforms it into something no longer creative but now subjective.

I was moved by the original painting. I disagreed with your fellow artists' assessment of what you should do to the original painting. It was perfect. It was perfect because it had raw feeling and raw creativity.”

I wrote that: “For me, I love hearing the opinions of artists (who's work I admire) on what they feel is working or not working in a painting that I'm having troubles with. For many (most) of the paintings I do, I don't need to ask for anyone's advice because it just feels right from the get go...others are trickier and I struggle with them more, and so, getting feedback from other aritsts is a way for me to see the work through someone else's "lens" so to speak. Some of the artists who visit my site are sculptors or photographers so they see different things that I may miss. I find it extremely helpful.”

This exchange was interesting though and really got me thinking. It reminded me of an argument in one of my favorite films ever (The Naked Lunch) where one of the character’s (Hank I believe, who represents Kerouac in the film) says:

“See, you can't rewrite, 'cause to rewrite is to deceive and lie, and you betray your own thoughts. To rethink the flow and the rhythm, the tumbling out of the words, is a betrayal, and it's a sin”

While the second character Martin (who represents Ginsberg) argues that to rewrite is necessary to distill and refine your own best thoughts and ideas.

That exchange has left such a lasting impression because it translates so well to visual (or any creative) mediums. Which is “better”, your first instincts or a piece that has been revised multiple times after much careful thought and consideration?

On a totally different note, the novel “Naked Lunch” was written by William S. Boroughs in room 9 of the Hotel El Muniria, Tangier, Morocco…it’s the room the owner lives in now (the place is a real dive by the way). Rick and I got to stay in #4, where Kerouac and Ginsberg had stayed when they came over to assist in trying to knock some sense into Boroughs and the novel that was kicking his ass. (In the movie, Hank and Martin come and find Lee (Boroughs) all drugged out in Interzone (Tangiers). Somewhere I have a photo of the door and the view that they would have had out the window towards the straights of Gibraltar.

It took us forever to find the little place but it was well worth it. It was right next door to a tiny expat
bar called the Tanger Inn. With lots of photos and scribblings from the beat poets who had hung out there.

Oh yah, back to Relics, I emailed a woman who had loved the painting (as it currently is) who was interested in buying it to say there was someone else interested in it as she agreed that she does want the painting so it all worked out in the end.

Replies: 7 Comments

on Tuesday, August 10th, RR said

I really liked this post Elise. Last night I was writing short essay type answers for my first college module and it was asking me to review lots of stuff about how I felt about the application process, my portfolio, my strengths/weaknesses etc. All of which I found really diffictlt to put into words. At one point I was writing about how helpful I had found the advice and comments from my tutors and fellow students but this has got me thinking. Perhaps developing my work in the direction others suggest is too subjective - unless, as you say it "feels right" but I also agree with you that when you really are stuck with something it's good to get someone else's point of view. I think because I am still a "baby" artist I welcome comments from others but I really long for the day when I have enough confidence to just get on with a piece and not have to ask - if that ever happens?? ;-)
And I think I'm going to have to look out for a copy of "The Naked Lunch" now as it sounds thought provoking too.

on Wednesday, August 11th,">Elise said

Hi there, you know I think there's a fine line and gets crossed a lot more when you're in school, because when you're studying art (writing, music, whatever) the input of your instructors counts because you'll be getting a grade. When I did my BFA thesis show I was jumping through endless hoops with my committee and I really did feel that my own vision was being subjugated.

It feels totally different now, because the people I ask for advice have no power over me or my ultimate decision. "Seeing", after all, is one of the most vital aspects of visual art and if someone else can help you with that...great...but you can still take it or leave it. Also, I've seen your work and I don't think you should label yourself as a "baby" artist at all. If you think in those terms you'll never gain the cofidence you're seeking.

on Wednesday, August 11th, Howard said

Keep in mind that it's his subjective opinion as well. In the end the only opinion that counts is yours, whether anyone else likes or dislikes the work is not your problem.

I think it's a common misconception that an artist creativity springs from some sort of inner source completly detached from the world around them and feedback is some form of creative corruption. Most people don't understand the creative process. We do not make art in a vacuum.

This whole process could of happened behind closed doors in a studio. Artist do visit other artist in their studios. Is this piece less sucessful just because the process of it's creation has more documentation?

I often wonder if keeping a blog of my working progress is a good idea just for this very reason.

on Wednesday, August 11th, Howard said

If you don't mind I might quote this on my site later. It brings to mind a lot of interesting questions.

on Wednesday, August 11th,">Jackie said

E: Well, I think the guy who criticized you for getting advice from fellow artists is full of hooey. "Raw Creativity" so what the hell is that? The moment we change a brush stroke, go over our original lines, cross out a word of a poem, is that violating the sacrosanct "raw creativity"? I doubt there's an artist or writer or other creative person alive who isn't influenced by those around her, who doesn't ask for feedback from an editor, viewer, connoisseur, or others, or even just change a piece of work after closing the door on it for a day or a week or more, come back, and say: 'here's what I wanted to say/paint/draw/write', and edit away. A sketch is probably the closest we get to 'raw creativity', or our notes for a story - our beginning effort, which we mull over, using our creative energy and eyes or ears to change and polish until we feel it's just right! Okay. End rant.

on Wednesday, August 11th,">Elise said

Howard, I don't think we should perpetuate the "myth of the artist" by hiding our process. I love artist blogs for exactly that reason, getting to peek into a very intimate part of how an artist thinks and feels about a piece and how that affects the work.

I hope you don't quit blogging because I really enjoy your site and it's fine if you ever want to quote anything from this least that I've written or that's anonymous (as in, I didn't include the name of the guy who I had the exchange with to maintain his privacy)...

Jackie, I agree that all artists are influenced by those who have come before whether they realize it or not. I think what that guy was referring to was the process of actually soliciting feedback from others on a particular piece and then possibly taking others suggestions to alter your original vision.

I agree with you obviously that "raw creativity" is a bit amorphous and that having someone to give feedback when needed is vital. I still worry sometimes that in my desire to please others, I question, or second guess, my own instincts from time to time.

on Wednesday, August 11th,">Elise said

Oh yah, one more thing in response to RR saying she'd like to get a copy of Naked Lunch, the book by Boroughs is *way* different than the movie. The book was written in a sort of heroine induced haze while Boroughs was in Tangiers...the movie is more about Boroughs writing the book in a drug induced state in Tangiers...with elements of the Naked Lunch novel thrown in. I can reccommend the movie but the book is a bit out there for most readers.