I recently went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and walked through their current show Modern Times, when I came across this Georgia O' Keeffe drawing titled No. 15 Special. It's weird and dark, I like it. I went to read the caption next to the art and was delighted to find this.
At the time, O'Keeffe was developing a new set of shapes and ideas with the intention of making art different from what had been done before. As she wrote, "I realized that I had things in my head not like what I had been taught...."
This really moved me. I love hearing artists talk about going beyond what they know and feel comfortable doing. It's what artists do. But they often don't verbalize it because they're too busy doing it all the time.
It also reminded me of this 2015 article from Hyperallergic about artist Joshua Marsh. Marsh makes some of the most amazing things I've ever seen in my life. The article is great. Here's a passage from writer Rob Colvin.
One of the worst things an artist can have is too much skill. Burdened in such a way, their technical facility for art making outpaces the energy of their desire. In the artist’s formative years, this tension between formal attainment and the conviction of their artistic will is often unbalanced and needs to be resolved if the artist is to achieve creative independence. The gap can be closed, in the end, by the artistic will itself — either by pushing one’s capacity for style and artifice to the limit (John Singer Sargent, Gerhard Richter, Alex Katz) or by putting one’s deepest instincts first and working them out through the materials (Alberto Giacometti, Mark Rothko, Eva Hesse). Put in crude contrast, some artists work from the hand and others from the gut. The end result, for the best artists, is neither here nor there.
How does one get to "neither here nor there". Man I don't know, that's mysterious. Maybe that's what's it's about; inviting mystery, pushing one's inner critic aside, allowing the gut to take over, trusting the skill in your hand.
Next time you're in the studio, saddle up and ask yourself for the No. 15 Special. Ask nicely with no tricks. Maybe you'll get out of your own way and deliver.