The Artist as a Scientist

In a way the artist is also a scientist. Scientists and artists both experiment. As an artist, even though I have qualifications and years of experience, I often feel when beginning a new painting, that I am doing something I don’t know how to do. I guess I continually challenge myself which means there’s always the potential for “failure,” “getting it wrong,” “making mistakes” and generally fouling up. (All of which happen!)

When scientists explore new territory and don’t find a solution straight away, they experiment. Essentially experimenting is trying things, being open to whatever happens and learning from it. I recently heard a definition of learning – “learning is the detection and correction of error.” Experimenting involves trial and error i.e. not getting the solution or the desired outcome until you get it. So from my point of view  as an artist, there is no such thing as failure or making mistakes, there is only learning and finding solutions through experimentation.

Having a vision is intrinsic to this process. A vision is focused imagery and words, imbued with feelings. It involves inspiration, insight, imagination, intuition, visualisation and faith. Experimentation begins with a vision and moves towards it moment by moment. Having an understanding of what is in effect the creative process, can lighten the emotional impact of not achieving the vision, until you achieve it. If you understand it, you can manage the emotions that come up; the disappointment, frustration, anger, grief; the suffering.

When I decided to paint native birds, I genuinely thought I would be able to do it, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t paint feathers. I painted ten Tomtits, thirteen Kakas and two Falcons before I learned to paint feathers.  I experimented over and over, for hours and hours with consistencies of paint and damp/wet paper till I eventually achieved the outcome I desired – little, soft feathers!  I experienced all the frustration and pain mentioned above and I didn’t give up. One of my most memorable reactions to the process was, “I’m not bloody well going back in there (my studio), that tomtit looks like a sick bird having a bad hair day.” The frustrated mind likes to swear!

During that process I had a powerful insight into the creative process. I’d experienced it before but not to the same extent. I learned to just keep going, moment by moment, until I achieved something like my vision. I’ve been through this process several times since and I’ve developed faith in the creative process; creating a vision and experimenting till I achieve a solution. Now I see it as doing what scientists do.

This is a little Fernbird.