An anatomy of creative decisions

February 2, 2010

Dear Rodney,Two painters played chess on a foggy Friday. "Decisions, decisions, it's like 
painting--one damn thing after the other," said my opponent, twirling the hair 
on the back of his head and tinkling the ice in his Aberlour Single Malt. Jack 
is fast at art but slow at chess. I had plenty of time to stir the fireplace. 

You march the pieces across the board--each piece with its built-in 
limitations. Sometimes you open boldly and aggressively. At other times you 
open timidly, testing the limitations of your cleverness. Early moves dictate 
later ones. Sometimes, when you can't think of any move at all, you just move 
up a pawn. Other times, you make a sacrifice, even of a capital piece, just to 
prove up something else you have in mind. All the time you're keeping an eye 
out for the possibility of scoring. And while each game has its satisfactions 
as well as its disappointments, there's always the possibility that you can 
still start another.

"What are you doing?" asked Jack. "I made my move ages ago." 

"Notes," I said.
There is an opening, a middle game and an endgame.
Some decisions are merely guesses with high hopes.
There are short-term tactics and long-term goals. 
You commit and then you have to correct.
Well played, there's a nice feeling of yin and yang.
Beautifully played, there's real rhythm and flow. 
As you go, you learn of opportunities and potentials. 
The big picture is more important than the little one.
Both intention and reaction play their part.
The middle game is where you get serious.
One must not be too confident or overdo the end game.
There is great comfort in knowing it's only a game.

Jack, who had been clearing the way for his rook to prevent my queen outing, 
shifted a bishop right across. "Checkmate," he said quietly, in that tasteful, 
understated way of his.

"Chess is too difficult; let's go paint," I said, and we did.

Best regards,


PS: "Theoreticians describe many elementary tactical methods and typical 
maneuvers, for example pins, forks, skewers, batteries, discovered attacks, 
zwischenzugs, deflections, decoys, sacrifices, underminings, overloadings, and 
interferences." (Wikipedia article on the game of chess) 

Esoterica: A painting requires conscious strategy as well as subconscious 
action and reaction. This is one of the reasons abstract paintings are so 
energizing to paint and so pleasurable to look at. Freed from the constraints 
often brought on by reference or other preconceived material, the hand and 
mind wander, moving here and there like a bee at flowers. Jack and I are 
having a tournament. For those who may be wondering what a zwischenzug is, 
it's a German term for an intermediate move--not the expected move or tactic 
but the insertion of another, unexpected one. "Nice zwischenzug there," says