“A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once. It’s an immediate image. For my own work, when a picture looks labored and overworked, and you can read in it—well, she did this and then she did that, and then she did that—there is something in it that has not got to do with beautiful art to me. And I usually throw these out, though I think very often it takes ten of those over-labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it, and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute.”
- Barbara Rose, Frankenthaler
A glimpse into Frankenthaler’s process reveals that what appears so effortlessly improvised is in fact the result of repeated trials, each one zeroing in on the mark. Her great images weren’t always first attempts, but often the reward of focused problem-solving through thoughtful variation.
Frankenthaler’s method demanded that this versioning take place– an image couldn’t just be painted over and retain its pure message. More often than not I think this same process of iterating propels anyone in any field. Too often we keep ideas in our heads, where they remain unedited or mere cells of unwritten motives.
In the design process, rarely if ever is a first version of anything the strongest. Maybe close… but throwing ideas out in front of us allows unforeseen possibilities to inform the work, and encourages the kind of flexibility required to create and communicate what moves us. It also has a way of throwing us almost unwittingly into the next project… We naturally evolve and produce, because some tiny cell, discarded for one problem, might be the germ of the next idea.
What I love about seeing this intimate, free admission of process from an artist of Frankenthaler’s importance is that she resigned herself to working her gifts, unabashedly… Like so many heroes, she experimented relentlessly, playing not only with ideas and intention but equally stretching the physical limitations of her craft. She wasn’t afraid to miss the mark, because the process of nearing it was as much the point as the tangible product. Pursuit of the right questions and willingness to enter uncharted territory inevitably elevated her work– and where iterations exist to be compared, the growth of an image can literally be charted.