Sometimes the Study is the Art / by Vanessa Longacre-Wilcox

Painting of foot

For a few years now, my father has been gently requesting I get the final bits of my childhood belongs (the heck) out of his house.  Honestly, I didn’t think I had very much left until I waited until the last two days of our family vacation this year to look at it. 

When my mom passed away in 2006, I inherited the vast majority of her belongs and my father generously allowed me to store a good deal of boxes of her things at his house.  Over the last decade when I visited, I slowly went through it and I thought I was done.  So to be honest, I didn’t really know what my dad was talking about when he said that I had more stuff to go through.  Whatever it was, I thought it would be easy.

But tucked in the back of the closet of my room at my father’s house was this big black portfolio labeled “Vanessa’s art.” It turned out to be paintings and drawings I had done that my mother kept. From my very first brush strokes as a kid all the way until my college freshman collages that I made (while avoiding my philosophy homework) to decorate my dorm room.

It was a treasure trove of lost artwork.  Seeing the art again after so many years brought back memories of childhood, college, and about the process of making art in general.  Most memorable was an 18 inch square painting I found of a foot.  It was part of a larger piece that consisted of three canvases in total that made up a female dancer.  When hung together, the dancer was larger than life size.  I had done a smaller 3 foot by 2 foot study for this piece on paper.  I created the study quickly and with great freedom.  It was the start of my love of playing with multiple canvases and negative space to imply movement.  I loved it and instantly knew that I wanted to create it bigger and on canvas.  The finished version was disappointing.  It was too polished and lacked the life and movement that the study had.  In the end, the foot painting was my favorite part and the only canvas I kept of the finished piece.

Seeing the foot painting again after so many years brought me back to the study and kicking myself for not keeping it.  I have a vivid memory of standing in my studio at the end of the semester packing up my things and trying to decide what to keep.   I can still see the study laying on the floor as I thought, “It’s just a study.” and threw it out despite a sense of sadness over letting it go.  There was something definitive about this idea.  “Just a study.”  Not a “real” piece of art even though it conveyed what I wanted to convey so much better than the final piece.  Not to mention, why throw something out that I just plain liked?  I was young, and wanted to be serious, and I thought of studies as the scratch piece of paper you do your calculations on, not the solved problem.

I'm getting better about not labeling my work “art” or “scrap”.  Over the last year I’ve done a lot more sketching and studies than ever before and in many cases I like the study better than the end product.  I’ve been exploring why that is and trying to incorporate more of how I create a study into how I tackle the final project. 

Study, pencil on tracing paper, smudges and all, I like it better than the final  painting version.

Study, pencil on tracing paper, smudges and all, I like it better than the final painting version.

I have learned many lessons about myself as an artist and how I think about art these past couple of years.  The first and foremost lesson from studies would be to give up ideas about what art is and isn't.  To quit judging art and focus on enjoying it.  And if I like it, DON’T THROW IT OUT!  

This has allowed me to broadened my definition of what art is.  It allows the idea that the success of a piece isn’t about how much labor went into it or even how complete or finished it is.  For me, it is about what it evokes, how it makes you feel.

Sometimes, in the end, the study is the more important piece of art.

As I worked on my last project, I tried to keep this in mind.  More on that coming up next…