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Second Breath by Robert Genn

Second Breath
by Robert Genn

A "second breath" is a restart of a work after getting a second opinion from yourself. I made up that line while I was walking this morning--so it's my lead-in to an overdue letter on methods of reworking half-finished or unsatisfactory paintings--and what dangers may be lurking.

Paintings that are not quite right or that are wrong to the point of abandonment sometimes deserve a second breath. It's all about the deep-seated human desire to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Clean, clear thought is necessary. This is most often possible after a period of time where the painting has been turned against a wall. Clever artists teach themselves a kind of time travel so inadequate stuff can be spotted and fixed right away. Using and applying your critical brain requires detachment and honesty. "The hardest thing to see," said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, "is what is in front of our eyes."

You need not consider the time you've already wasted, the cloud of your ego, or the riveting need to keep some particular part. This is business and you need to make the business better. You need to ask yourself, "What could be?" Remember the part about not being hung up on keeping something? It's when you remove that aircraft carrier from the foreground and replace it with an albatross that you start to get somewhere.


"What could be?" might well be the artist's credo, but a different type of thinking is required than when you are painting. It's speculation mode, and you need to think outside the box--even if you don't end up going there. The human imagination is far richer than we know. Understand this, and you will need fewer books and teachers. The answer is within you. Self-anointed genius awaits all canvases.

The main problems in second breath come in execution. It may be a fresh new idea you are introducing, but it must not appear as add-on or overworking. In short, you must toil to make your changes look like there was no toil. One stroke too many and you have let the weasel out of the sack. Try not to tighten up. Very often a work requires a few definitive strokes rather than a bunch of minor ones. "Finish," said John Singer Sargent, "with a broom rather than a whisk."


Best regards,




PS: "I waited for the idea to consolidate, for the grouping and composition of themes to settle themselves in my brain. When I felt I had enough cards I determined to pass to action, and did so." (Claude Monet)

Esoterica: The second breath is a way of thinking that can be learned. In my observation, a main factor that separates amateurs from professionals is the trained clarity of the professionals' sight. Occluded by inexperience and a host of other blockers, the amateur may make the fatal error of continuing with the work without a pause for breathing. "You need to get out of the way," said John Marin, "to see how the new order will be revealed."

Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to post from his twice-weekly newsletter. For more of his artistic insights, visit his blog at www.painterspost.com.

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