Heuristic painting

May 9, 2008

Robert Genn

Heuristic (pronounced hyu-RIS-tik) comes from the Greek
"heuriskein" meaning "to discover." The heuristic process means
achieving some desired result by intelligent guesswork rather
than by systematic formula. Generally used in the fields of
invention, computer science, psychology and law, examples of
its use would be "seat of the pants," and "trial and error."
Heuristic thinking generally results in reasonably close
solutions. The benefits are speed and expediency.

The daily act of creating art is full of it. Here's an example:
To choose the colour and tone value of the light part of the
sky, the colour chosen can be seen as correct only when the
rest of the colours around it are applied. Thus, when applying
a sky early on, an artist must make a heuristic decision to
commit to an approximate sky colour. The artist then has the
choice of leaving it and remaining true to the first guess, or
modifying it, perhaps many times. Heuristics can apply when
artists are looking for both realistic and imaginary truth.

Some media, such as oil or watercolour, require a deadly eye
and knowledgeable commitment. "Forgiving" media such as acrylic
and pastel are modified more readily. Here are a few ideas for
squeezing value from heuristics in any media:

Start anywhere.
Accept "nearly right" to get going.
Forgo early accuracy and precision.
Let early strokes determine later ones.
Assume a solution and try working backwards.
Of two solutions, choose the simplest.
Move forward on incomplete information.
Think smart rather than laborious.
Use intuition and go directly to the outcome.
Trust your instincts.

One needs a sense of discovery and a willingness to go with the
educated guess, without falling too much into tried-and-true
habit. In other fields the conventional wisdom is sometimes
referred to as "bias." Heuristic painters rethink their systems
to free up natural flow and avoid bias. Artists who find
themselves stuck, bogged down or habitually obsessive might
consider giving some of these ideas a spin. It's not that
perfection is left behind, but rather a new kind of perfection
is found.

Best regards,


PS: "Truth is ever to be found in simplicity." (Isaac Newton)

Esoterica: Most of us who apply ourselves at an easel or other
workstation automatically become curious about the nature of
the daily mystery before us. It seems the blank canvas
transforms as a result of both laws and whims. To become unique
and fulfilled, we need to work with our whims. Heuristic theory
invites a more relaxed "to the point" work habit that is
courageous and potentially richer. I've noticed a positive
change in students' work when they commit to experimentation.
When life and art are understood as a beautiful exercise, great
things happen.