On Taking Chances

It is better to be fervent in spirit, even if one accordingly makes more mistakes, than narrow-minded and overly cautious.

— Vincent Van Gogh

It’s juvenile to think so, but a fortune cookie has provided my new mantra.

I paint for the most part alla prima in oil, a technique and medium that suit me because they let me approach every painting as a single experiment, one whose outcome—moment to moment to moment—remains sketchy.

I never know whether the next dab, jab or stab will sharpen the painting or spoil it; whether a thin wash or thick gob will help or hinder; or whether the addition of, say, violet is luscious or ludicrous.

But I know I can’t be timid or let worry stand in my way, because worry—rooted in fear of humiliation and others’ harsh judgments—leads to self-doubt and discouragement.

If I’m to survive as an artist, whenever I go to the easel I need to remind myself: don’t worry, this painting’s an experiment; there’ll be another.

Were the painting anything else, I’d freeze.

In 1921, a writer asked Thomas Edison whether the light bulb had ever daunted him. The inventor said no, but that a colleague had complained at one point they’d learned nothing from thousands of failed experiments. “I assured him we had, for we had learned for a certainty that the thing couldn’t be done that way, and we would have to try some other.”

I must remember, like Edison, not to worry.

There’s always some other way.

Stop worrying. Take a chance.