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The Fine art of Exploration – Robert Genn twice weekly

The Fine Art of Exploration
Robert Genn

You may have noticed the roar of applause when the orchestra plays what the audience already knows. It's not rocket science to understand that folks are not applauding Tchaikovsky's genius but their own ability to recognize his tune when they hear it.

Take the plight of singers and songwriters. While many may be deeply committed to the development of new material, they can be sure their audience will demand their greatest hits. It's a peril for Leonard Cohen, for example, to step onto a stage without doing "Suzanne," "Everybody Knows" and "Hallelujah."

Thus it is when painters get branded. Collectors take pride in recognizing a painter's work from across a crowded mall. The phenomenon can both bless and tyrannize. Getting a brief and satisfying whiff of product identification, collectors express themselves with their wallets. And artists get the whiff of wallets when they do what they did before.

"It's a painter's right and obligation to explore her motifs and work with her styles," said one of my dealers. We know where he's coming from. But the operative word is "explore." Working a one-trick pony may be a one-way trip to the ATM, but it also leads to one helluva state of boredom. Diminishment of joy is a major creative hazard. When your work has achieved a "look," you need to make sure your look has legs. Blessed with an energetic, variable style, the artist can inflict herself on a challenging range of motifs.

Leonard Cohen's work has both statics and variables. Statics include a deep and dark male voice contrasted to an echoing female chorus backup. Variables include a rich poetry combined with instrumental invention and a highly imaginative cross-discipline exploration.

We should all be so lucky. Or is it the result of careful planning? I think the latter. Some ideas can be explored in an afternoon, or at most, in a month. Our goal is to find something that can keep us amused for a lifetime. Our prayer is to be spared from too many non-exploratory fans.

Best regards,


PS: "An artist is an explorer. He has to begin by self-discovery and by observation of his own procedures. After that he must not feel under any constraint." (Henri Matisse)

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