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Painting and Chunking – by Robert Genn

Painting and Chunking
by Robert Genn


I'm not talking about a place in China. "Chunking" is a word psychologists use for a kind of learning and understanding. It means to group elements that might work in unison toward a goal. A good way to understand chunking is to look at a word. "Horse," will do. One doesn't need to separate the individual five letters to grasp the idea of a four-legged animal people can ride on. One quickly visualizes the animal by the letter order--a distinct pattern that implies meaning. The word "hesor," doesn't serve so well, even though all the horse letters are there.

Understanding and learning worthwhile new skills often require chunking. The great Russian tennis academy at Spartak, near Moscow, teaches stance, reach, turn, connection and follow-through before students are given a ball. Students move slowly in balletic dances that lock in a variety of effective procedures. The system produces more tennis greats than any other school.

Now let's talk about painting. Some folks think talent is a mysterious wind that somehow just blows the door open. It can be a long wait. Often as not, these folks need to try some chunking.

For example, think impasto, two or more high-key colours on the same brush-load, and a curved stroke. Or--think transparency, gradation from warm to cool, and a soft edge. It's these sorts of multi-faceted exercises that hone skills, make things interesting and take work beyond mediocrity. If you catch my drift, you might think of chunks you can apply to your own work.

Recently I wrote to you about giving your personal wiring the brilliance of broadband. Practice in bite-sized chunks works to this end and builds what is called "cognitive reserve." By putting complex skills into your pocket, you can take them out at will. The result is better product--whether we're talking tennis, bass fiddle or paint pushing. It's all good for the brain too. Like the oft-touted crossword habit, chunking helps thinking, doing, and hanging in there.

Chunking requires focus, repetition, a willingness to apply self-determined rules, and the postponement of gratification. Those who read my stuff will know I'm keen on fast and intense work habits. But there's also a time to go slow. Slow chunking burns in desirable habits. Give yourself permission to speed up later.  

Now I'm going to jump on my hesor and ride off in all directions.

Best regards,


PS: "There is no substitute for attentive repetition." (Daniel Coyle)

Esoterica: One summer I borrowed a Cariboo cabin and chunked for a solid week. Apart from almost going nuts, I slept, fed myself and painted like a zombie. I had a thousand panels in my car and I covered hundreds of them. I made tight little renderings of flowers and mushrooms, some oily landscapes and a few abstracts. During the event I became so punchy I sketched my left hand at least a dozen times. Looking back at the yellowed notes from my twenties, I see "Ex (for exercise) of two secondaries with neutral grays." "Ex of equal-intensity lay-bys." "Ex of complex patterns and juiciness."


Robert Genn has given artazine.org permission to add his postings to our website.  To view more of his insight, please visit his website: http://www.painterspost.com

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