Doing it Twice

“There is no great writing, only great rewriting.”

Louis D. Brandeis

I often find myself comparing the creative process in different artforms in which I have some experience: photography, painting, music, writing in particular. It’s interesting to examine the similarities and differences. Sometimes it can be revealing and perhaps will cause you borrow some approach from one for use in another.

This quote speaks to the process of editing one’s writing. Of course there are small edits you make along the way, changing a word, rephrasing a sentence. But when writing anything of significance, usually there are drafts, whole versions which are re-examined and reconsidered in their entirety.

The process of making a photographic print  is similar. There are minor adjustments you make as you make your first print, but that print usually serves as a proof (like a first draft) and often multiple proofs with revisions are made before a final version is created.

In my experience painters don’t tend to incorporate this concept into their work as often. I know that there are often preliminary steps that can precede the final painting: value studies, sketches, even smaller versions done in a different medium (pastels as a study for oils, etc). But rarely does a painter actually repaint a painting – do it over.

Part of the reason may be that it can take a long time to complete a painting and it’s hard to think about doing it again. Rewriting a book draft can take a long time as well – one reason it can take years to complete a book. Part of it is that some of the spontaneity which can make a painting fresh when it is repainted could be lost. Writing and photography are perhaps more “studied” artforms where that spontaneity is not as important or even wanted. Music is an interesting comparison – the writing of music is more like writing a book, with many revisions possible. Musicians obviously repeat performances of the same piece many times – each is unique but clearly the same piece.

What is your experience? Are there times when you’ve “redone” a painting? How has that worked for you? Does it depend on the type of painting, the medium, the subject matter, etc.? What are your motivations for doing or not doing this?

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5 responses to “Doing it Twice

  1. There are various reasons why a painter may try to re-paint a painting– a gallery may have sold a painting and someone else wanted to buy it– hence the artist will try to paint it again– so for sales. Or the artist entered it in a juried show and something happened– like it sold so the painter may try to duplicate it in order to send it to the show– I have heard of all sorts of reasons why– but I have also heard these same artists say that they couldn’t paint the second one very well– something is missing– the freshness, spontaneity, uniqueness is all missing– no matter how much the first painting was planned there is still a spontaneity that can’t be duplicated.

    • Donna

      In some sense I think a painting is more like a performance. But I wonder why it is that a musician can perform the same piece many times and the spontaneity can still be there (though maybe not after 1000 performances of the same piece!).

      Perhaps painting is a unique combination of performance, requiring spontaneity and freshness, and careful application of technique over a period of time.

      Because music has a built in temporal character (it plays out in a short interval of time), it is almost forced to be spontaneous for each performance.

  2. I have never been able to duplicate a painting whatever the reason, the second version may still be a good painting but it will not be the same as the first. The circumstances that exist when the second painting is undertaken will always be different to those when the first was done be it health, personal emotions, climate whatever, everything will have an effect on the finished result.

    • Ian

      I understand this – my inquiry was more about trying to paint it differently than the same.

      Have you ever finished a painting that you didn’t like for some reason and decided to repaint it with the objective of improving it?

      I know in my painting days I never did this – a not successful painting got tossed, never to be revisited. But I’m not sure why I would never make another stab at it…

  3. interesting conversation– remember that for me– and perhaps Ian– I am working with acrylic– I just keep working on it until I think it is working– or I like it– acrylic can cover up anything– and after awhile– if I decide I don’t like the painting I just cover it up with gesso and start a new painting on the same canvas or wood.
    But watercolor artists (and I know because I used to paint in watercolor)– don’t have the same process– once they paint on the paper– if one keeps working on it too much the colors become muddy and overworked– in that case they may try to repaint it on another sheet of paper — but something may be lost the second attempt. Whenever we try to copy anything we become more careful and more afraid to make a mistake.

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