What matters when you are painting – the thought or the action?

Many of the great artistic masterpieces we admire, took years to create. They were artistic endeavours with planning, sketching, mixing the paints, the painting itself and any finishing.

Think Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Vermeer, Turner and so on. While the painting process has sped up over time – think Bacon and Pollock – adding contemplation to the painting process has increased.

For instance, Rothko would sit and stare at the canvas delving into the inner emotional state the canvas would one day evoke.

So the question I find myself asking is: How long does it take to make art? And, when you do, is art that only takes moments to create as valuable as art that that takes an age?

A while ago I painted an abstract ocean. It was the perfect combination of colours and a technique using my hands that I have been developing. Yet it was finished in 30-40 minutes without significant contemplation. It just emerged and it was beautiful.

But I didn’t think art that took so little time to create could possibly be finished.

I thought it needed more depth, more movement, more layers. But when I tried adding those in weeks later, I simply ruined the painting. I don’t even have a photo of the original. It will only ever exist in my memory because I thought it wasn’t enough.

A artist I recently discovered has made me question my perceptions around the time it takes to create art. A couple of Max Gimblett’s tondos were on display in Gow Langsford Gallery.


Max is a New Zealander living in New York and his work incorporates religious and spiritual themes. In this case, the practice of Buddhist and meditation as part of creating this work.

The gallery assistant explained that Max meditates and contemplates the painting and when ready, picks up a large broom like brush, dips it in a fluid paint and using a single fluid motion, swipes it around the canvas. And its done.



It’s over in seconds. The act of painting that is.

We will never know how long the meditation and contemplation actually took.

Is art the thought, planning, contemplation and meditation? Or is it the act of creation – when you give it life?

It’s interesting to compare art that took years to create and art that took mere moments. They are both invaluable, they both contribute to our shared cultural history and encourage conversation about art and life and what it means to be human.

For an artist that works intuitively (me!), without pre-planning or any idea of what the finished work will look like, it requires a change in mindset about the way art is judged and accepted as being finished.

Work should not be judged by it’s inputs (time, materials, education, experience, etc), but simply by whether it has allowed you to express yourself creatively.

For it is your voice, and mine, that we want to hear. Not the voice you judge and criticise before you release it into the world.


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