Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



June 2007

"You discover painting by doing it."
Malcolm Morley, "Call Me in the Morning" - "Say Ahh" The New Yorker,



Planning Ahead in Writing and Art Making

Dear Reader,

If there were an award given for making an effort to educate people about art, I believe that it should go to Malcolm Morley, a 75 year old artist who lives in New York. He invited a group of doctors to come to a gallery and discuss art, calling it an "art-appreciation club for doctors." He is doing for a live audience what I attempt to do in cyberspace with Judy's Journal.

Morley chose the work of Joan Mitchell to launch a discussion with the doctors, including some who had treated him for a broken hip. They looked at the artwork and asked questions, which was Morley's plan: "I found that a lot of doctors were interested in art, but didn't know how to do anything about it."

"Does an artist plan a painting?" asked one of the doctors. Morley answered, "You discover painting by doing it." If you were to insert "poem" and "poetry" into the question and answer, you would come to a major similarity found in both means of expression. One of the basic tenets of creativity is discovery and surprise, and you need to be in there "doing it" in order to have it happen.

That is not to say that there is no planning involved in making a poem or a painting. Reading hastily written notes and bits of conversation or hearing the sound of a rhythmic line in my head often precedes the moment when I sit at my computer to discover if there is a poem worth pursuing. There may be pages of research that might indicate I planned a poem, but that is not the poem.

In the decades I have been writing, I have learned to listen as the poem develops, and too much planning interferes. I have grown comfortable with disregarding the hours spent following one lead when the poem seems to be intent upon going in a different direction. I step aside and allow it to grow. I can step in and trim or add later. So, to paraphrase Morley's answer: "You discover poetry by writing it." A poem that starts out being about turtles ends up as one about fertility. That happened in the process of writing it. Any and all information about turtles was folded into it, sometimes disappearing like egg yokes into cake batter.

One could argue that artists plan to a great degree. Packing your car with paints and easel and heading for the mountains could indicate that you were planning to make a landscape. But you don't know what is waiting for you on that mountain. Your plans are general: "I'm going to see what happens." With the light. With color. With some aspect of the setting that demands attention. A tree or a rock might end up as the star of your painting.
You can't plan, so you get there and begin. You are in the same boat as I am when I walk into my studio and step up to a blank canvas. Because I paint from my imagination directly onto my canvas, I can't plan ahead. I begin to paint.

If you walk by my studio, you might hear me chanting Cezanne's advice over the loud music: "Paint, don't think." I step back again and again to see where the piece wants to go. Too much planning might interfere with the lively exchange between me and the paint.

Like surgeons, we lay out our tools for writing or painting: notebooks, computer, sketchbooks, palette knives, brushes, rags, paints. We begin, and like surgeons and their attendants who rely on their bird's eye view and monitors, we pay attention to the patient's reactions. And we never forget that there may be some surprises in store for us. In fact, we look forward to them.

Next month, I will continue to explore the similarities and differences between creating art and poetry. Contact me,, if you would like to get in on the discussion.