I'm not sure I can relay this so that it can be understood, but I will give it a try.
I think Robin and I were talking about that funny block we sometimes get when we see a subject we want to paint but the little inner gremlin says, "Well, why paint that? You know that Penny Painter does paintings of (seashells / bank buildings / matchbooks) really well and all the time. She's known for those. The world doesn't need another painting of that same thing. It's been DONE."
Sometimes, I have that gremlin try to convince me out of painting in that situation. And often, remembering an experience I had at the Tassajara Zen Monastery on a beautiful meditation retreat can help me past it. What's tricky is trying to put that experience into words, but again, I'm giving it a go.
Ed mentioned this in the talk he gave us just after meditation. He laughed and explained that although (and probably BECAUSE) the students ringing that gong were consciously stripping away personality and attempting to ring the bell with ultimate adherence to form, he could always tell exactly which student was ringing that gong. Their true energy, absent the neurotic flourish of "personal form" that they might want to put into the gong ringing, remained. Maybe I should not say "remained" but say "was made more apparent."
Shortly afterward, I was in a painting class led by the wonderful Gary Stutler at Napa Community College and the memory of the gong-ringer story resurfaced and suddenly made sense with art-making. It was a thought perfectly aligned with some teaching that Gary was giving about how the energy of the artist shows up in every stroke - part of why he was recommending, for example, that we stand up and really move when we painted if we wanted a dynamic piece.
So back to the painting of a seashell. Let's say Penny Painter really does create wonderful paintings of seashells. If you and Penny tried to paint the same shell with the same formal approach, same palette, same perspective, and if you and Penny let go of all clinging about inserting your "personalities" into that painting, it is clear that the true energy and essence of each of you would cause there to be two authentically interesting, unique paintings.
Is that interesting enough to you to proceed with your painting? If not, what else is motivating you to paint?
Can you think of paintings you've seen where it seems the output of pure unique energy of a person, but seems also not muddied by "personality"? Can you think of artworks where all you see is "personality"? Are you drawn to one over the other?
Something to think about!
And hopefully, a story that can help nudge you over that "gremlin block" about uniqueness next time it comes up.
-- Kate Merriman