Saturday, February 3, 2024

Paint by Numbers

Vintage Paint-by-Number of Paris by Anonymous

Do remember paint-by-numbers? These handy-dandy kits provide you with everything you need to paint a masterpiece: a blank canvas with the outlines already in place, along with numbers that correspond to the little vials of paint, and an array of paintbrushes. 

Yes, a masterpiece. True--it'll be somebody else's masterpiece. And there's that whole thing about painting inside those lines.

But, I wonder--is that so awful?

Over the years, people made fun of Paint-by-number kits, but I believe that the practice of copying a classic can be quite helpful when you're learning about art. In fact, when you're training as a writer, you may be asked to take a classic novel--a book you love--and then copy it word for word. 

The idea behind this is to get into the author's mindset and the physicality of the words on the page. What it feel like to stop a sentence short. Or go on and on in that Faulknerian voice that's so long and flowing and makes you think you're full of Southern charm and gothic drama, sipping a mint julep under the Spanish moss of your decaying plantation that carries with it that sordid and complicated history, along with a boatload of guilt and pain and in the meantime, you look over your shoulder at Hemingway and ask how can he get away with writing such short, terse sentences and do people really think that's art because to you it sounds like something the guy wrote under the influence, with Scott and Zelda at Harry’s Bar and drunk to boot, completely plastered, inebriated and generally smashed.

 And Hemingway responds, yes, we drank and we fished and it was good.

The point is—painting or writing by numbers can be a very good practice. It can help you get out of your own way and refresh your habits.

Creative Friends: your assignment for this week is to take a classic and copy it. Embrace the art of walking in another's artist’s shoes. It will be good for your soul and your art.

That's it. Oh, and have fun. 



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