Mary Tietjen is a visual artist based in Port Townsend, Washington. A former ad agency copywriter and creative director, she brings a sharp editor's eye to the assemblage and other art work she creates. We talked recently about how a visual artist edits her work, and the similarities to the way a writer self-edits are striking.
The primary element of self-editing we found we have in common is that of taking out what doesn't need to be there. We laughed about the pieces she removes from an assemblage or the words I delete from a page. She says she finds that the usual problem is being too heavy-handed with her "message", rather than leaving the viewer to iintuit and ponder. "Sometimes," she says, "I am so in love with an element of the piece that I can't see that it needs to be gone."
Mary quotes Hemingway, who talked about getting away from the work so that "the well can fill again." She says, "If I can get entirely away, physically and mentally, from an artwork . . . I can see it with new eyes." I feel the same way about this, and it can be a problem when facing a deadline. In the best of all worlds, a piece of writing or a piece of art has a chance to "rest" before the artist makes a final pass. Mary says that occasionally "I have so many different elements that the piece loses its clarity, grace and flow. I'm lost in the trees, and need to step back and take a look at the shape of the woods." The metaphor works both ways!
Mary also says, "I work on my courage, self-confidence, and gambling instincts. It is so easy to do things because your are trying to please buyers, jurors, critics, your colleagues, whomever. I push myself to relax, break the rules, do things that make me uncomfortable, and quit worrying about the outcome. I find my best work happens when I'm in the moment doing something for myself with no show in mind. A "what the hell" attitude makes the work a lot better."
Mark Twain agreed. He wrote that "We write frankly and fearlessly but then we "modify" before we print." Both, I think, take courage.