320: Repetition Fatigue

–WHAT type of artist are you? When I began my illustration career, my intent was to be a science fiction/fantasy book cover illustrator. However, due to the constraints of the genre, I soon grew weary of the repetitious aspects of the process. I found the routine, with its reliance on photography, stultifying.

I noticed my impatience with repetition again when I tried to force myself to do multiple composition, value, and color studies in preparation for landscape painting. Such impatience, or repetition fatigue as I came to call it, differs from laziness or lack of discipline. Repetition fatigue is the realization that repetition can inflict damage on the creative process. Despite reading innumerable times about the necessity of preliminary preparation, the truth remained that such repetition detracted from the work I intended to create. Artists with a high capacity for repetition, like those academically trained, have little understanding how drawing the same sketch over and over again, as required in some processes, can impede creativity for many artists.

Another factor determining what type of artist you are is esteem for craftsmanship. If you have an innate respect for craftsmanship, you need to find a balance between what you want to create and your actual capacity to create that degree of craftsmanship over an extended period. A famous trompe l’oeil artist told me that when I decided what genre of art to pursue to be sure it was a form I could live with over the long haul.

To clarify my thinking on these two factors and how they interact I made the accompanying graph. The horizontal vector is labeled repetition tolerance–low tolerance on the left, high tolerance on the right. The vertical vector is craftsmanship–with no concern for craftsmanship on the bottom, high concern at the top. The yellow dot shows how I blend these two traits.

With my palette knife landscapes, there is a high degree of spontaneity–I don’t do color studies or sketches. Painting becomes a record of the discovery process as I create color harmony on-the-fly. However, the forms do not melt into chaos, as my sense of craftsmanship curtails abstract tendencies. The process becomes a dance between intent and capability.

This obscure interaction was not easy to articulate. But clarity began to emerge as I engaged in a two-year abstract painting project. During that time I realized that one of the historical reasons abstract art emerged was simply that such art occupied an ecological niche in the artistic landscape. Some people were driven to create but had no concern with craftsmanship and low tolerance for repetition. If it is possible that an art form can exist, no matter how bizarre, like a surreal glowing fish in the depths of the sea, it will eventually exist. In like manner, art forms will emerge to occupy every space in the craftsmanship/repetition tolerance landscape.

Abstract art fascinates those interested in shape and color. Wood engraving is intriguing to those interested in line and texture–and so on, giving rise to all the multiple expressions of art.

It takes humility to accept that your innate personality, with all its strengths and weaknesses, will delineate the type of art you will do. But it is the surest path to authentic creation.

Brad Teare –March 2017

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Updated: 18th June 2024
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