As with life, much of art is about unlearning.
It seems backwards, doesn’t it? That in attempting to master something we’ve not studied we need to unlearn as well as learn.
Sometimes, we even need to unlearn to be able to learn. For me, stepping deeper into impressionistic painting has meant unlearning both seeing and trying to paint the literal. It’s like the difference between trying to control the outcome and letting the outcome reveal itself.
Recently, I read an interview with Dana Gioia, formerly chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and currently a poet and professor of poetry and public culture at the University of Southern California, in the current issue of Image Journal (www.imagejournal.org). Gioia explained this letting go of controlling artistic outcomes with his poetry —
“It was in writing this sequence of poetry that I started to explore what has become one of my persistent themes — the sheer mystery of our existence in which the visible and invisible worlds both press upon us. I think it was in this sequence that I stopped trying to sound smart — the great literary vice — and simply surrendered myself to the phenomenon I was trying to capture and the language that I had hoped summoned it.”
In that spirit, here is one of my attempts to unlearn.