The following passage by E.H. Gombrich was a revelation to me, maybe an epiphany. I had been looking for a way to break out of my old habits when I found this. It became the central idea of a “Self-forgiveness Theory.” It says to keep trying, modifying, and correcting -- that the eraser is the tool of more expressive realism. In almost mystical terms: trying to create perfection is impossible, but forgiving yourself and your drawings for being imperfect and constantly refining your vision is possible.

“Seen in this light, that dry psychological formula of schema and correction can tell us a good deal, not only about the essential unity between medieval and post-medieval art, but also of their vital difference. To the Middle Ages, the schema is the image, to the post-medieval artist, it is the starting point for corrections, adjustments, adaptations, the means to probe reality and to wrestle with the particular. The hallmark of the medieval artist is the firm line that testifies to the mastery of his craft. That of the post-medieval artist is not facility, which he avoids, but constant alertness. Its symptom is the sketch, or rather the many sketches which precede the finished work and, for all the skill of hand and eye of the master, a constant readiness to learn, to make and match and remake till the portrayal ceases to be a second hand formula and reflects the unique and unrepeatable experience the artist wishes to seize and hold.”

Art & Illusion: A study in Psychology of Pictorial Representation, Page 173

-- E. H. Gombrich

Saturday, December 28, 2013


For years I have watched various art organizations -- from the inside and the outside. I've watched them struggle to stay viable and I've noticed a few problems. First, after almost every regime change, the "stunning incompetence" of the past team is discovered. The second is the complaint: members don't volunteer enough. 

That the previous team was flawed, let it go. The new team is different and should have a different focus.  Tasks will be accomplished more easily if an attitude of inclusiveness is adopted. Blaming the past groups just shuts doors. Also, the more transparent the succeeding team is, the more they can attract support from members -- you can't volunteer if you don't know the plans. 

In my many years on boards and committees, I never had a problem getting enough volunteers. I made personal phone calls asking members to handle a specific task. Some couldn't or wouldn't, but most were able to help. I tried hard to make the phone calls sound like an invitation but never like a guilt-trip. 

The other problem is the small group of perpetual leaders and volunteers. At first glance, this doesn't seem like a problem, but it is. If there are people who are always willing to do the all the heavy lifting in an organization, then few others will be compelled to step forward. 

Letting new people take positions of leadership has many rewards. Depending on the tasks, they will develop skills and/or make new contacts. The new skills will not only help the organization but should translate into new confidence for the member. Networking, this is the real power for the organization and the individual. Knowing who can help your organization (generate publicity, provide display space, sponsor awards, host workshops…) and then working with them is an important step. 

I know, all this sounds like common sense but these little problems hobble many organizations. Just being aware of them might help.