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Intention and Intuition

Once again, I was asked about my intent. This was the first question asked by a writer, about my art, on seeing three of my framed paper paintings for the first time. We had not met before and I believe she viewed them favorably and was genuinely interested in knowing more.

My first thought, which I kept to myself was: the paintings you see are what I intended.

Instead, I tried to explain how my motivation for making a painting is rolled into and inseparable from the process I use to make the painting. Paintings are not preplanned and executed according to a blueprint, but rather begin with a vision—a simple motive like a color combination that I want to see, or a composition I wish to improvise with. I was going after something new, something I hoped to recognize or discover during the process of making the painting. I don’t know, in advance, what that will look like. By using the materials at hand—paints and paper—I expect something unexpected to arise in due course.

So I set up an ever evolving process to make paintings. It’s my job, in the studio, to get out of my mundane mind and come to my senses. The visual sense has to awaken and respond to what’s seen in the immediate visual field. That's where color, shape, line, texture, space, and light is located.

How do you explain to a writer what a painter had in mind? When drawing or painting, I'm thinking visually. What am I trying to do? Turn intent into art. Motive into motif. Need into sense. How one does that is the art of it, whether deliberately or intuitively created.

Not knowing, but knowing when you see it, is key. It’s something learned through experience and many failures and false starts. And the last painting never predicts the next one. There are days when my mojo is working and other days when nothing works. Without some inner drive, the magic won't happen. It is work, and work is serious play. There are no rules to follow to create new art.

I stretched a canvas (60 x 72”) last week and painted the ground color aqua green (a middle value). Those are deliberate decisions as a matter of preparation for painting. Stretching the canvas and giving it a color (instead of gesso white) helps me gain a feel for the scale and material. That canvas is currently leaning against shelving in my studio, where I pass multiple times a day, so it is in my peripheral vision and subconscious, while I’m busy on other work. I don’t yet know what I intend to paint or when I will decide to work on it. Chances are it will derive from work in progress—the current run of paper paintings. Building on the methods and practices already in play, it will have similar qualities of form and color. But only if those means can be scaled and applied to canvas. That remains to be seen.

I’ve been working on new color combinations and paint handling and mark making (gesture) this winter. Exploring possibilities. After painting the canvas ground with acrylic aqua color (phthalo green + white), I used the excess color to begin several paper paintings. Before beginning on canvas, I will have had some sense of the color, of how the aqua green interacts with other colors, physically and visually. The rest will be intuitive, and spontaneous, until the painting I intend emerges into view.

Not incidentally, there is something in philosophy (aesthetics) called the intentional fallacy. [In literary theory— the fallacy of basing an assessment of a work on the author's intention rather than on one's response to the actual work.] It posits that all artists are liars and can’t be trusted as to their intentions. Artists don’t always know what they’re talking about or can say what exactly their intention was. So what is said about the work of art mustn’t be taken too seriously. It’s the art that matters, and that’s where to look if meaning is to be found.

Note that I have not spoken about inspiration or about my background and artistic influences. Creation is not creation ex nihilo, out of nothing. This only addresses the issue of intent.

Jeffrey Kurland


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