Saturday, March 25, 2017

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


  1. Very interesting thought. I've definitely seen this manifest in different ways in artists I know including myself. I wonder if being aware of this idea helps us arrive more quickly to the place where we are our best selves.

    1. I know I spent a lot of energy on trying to pursue art forms that were out of alignment with basic personality traits. I generally did so out of excessive esteem for what other artists were creating. That can be a definite block to where we need to end up. Thanks for the comment.

  2. I think you meant to label the horizontal axis "repetition tolerance" (with yourself fairly low on the scale)

    In any case, thank you for writing this. It's an important point, and one I sometimes struggle with. I'm not a very structured person, and I have low repetition tolerance - and both traits are currently exacerbated by having small children.

    1. You are right. I changed the label. It makes better sense now. Many thanks! And thanks for the kind words regarding this entry.

  3. Having read some of your articles on how your abstract art has informed your landscapes, I want to ask you if the training and experience that involved so much repetition informs your spontaneity. I like to remind myself that repetition is about skill-building. That the more time I spend learning the language of light by doing sketches and value studies, the closer I become to be able to express myself coherently without the rigid steps. It's when a thing is difficult that we're rewarded the most growth. Not to say it will lead directly to a masterpiece, but that it's an important step to creating consistently-fulfilling works.
    Your art shows that you've paid your dues, but are letting go. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing so much insight!

    1. Good ideas, Ian. I have occupied various points on the chart at different times in my career. I think I might plot out how things have shifted over the years. That might be a worthwhile exercise.

  4. Brad-

    You've made me think and I'm still cogitating on your words. This has something to do with what I'm trying to discover about "myself." It's a question of personal tolerance. Why am I attracted to certain process and not others? Perhaps this article is a "Path to Discovery" aid.


    1. I'm still ruminating on the ramifications, too. I'm going to chart my development over the years and see if I get any more insights. Thanks for your comments.

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