Vincent van Gogh didn’t start painting until his twenties. He produced about 900 paintings, and then he died at thirty-seven. I’d say, he was fucking prolific. In my book, that’s obsessive painting over the course of a couple of decades.
Picasso painted almost 1,900 paintings, but he started when he was very young and lived nearly a century. He made a lot of other things too. I’m not counting either of their drawings, etchings, sculptures or any of that.
Michelangelo died at eight-eight and made almost 180 artworks in total, which includes everything, but look at what he made. You can pretty much, at least quadruple that number, easily, based on the enormity of the masterpieces he is known for.
DaVinci created 204 works, only fifteen of those were paintings, but it’s rumored that he made many more. They’re lost somewhere among the earth. Who knows where?
Then you have Rembrandt–600 paintings, Cézanne also 600, Monet–2,500, and Matisse–1008. Then there’s Vermeer, who only painted forty or so, but that’s about how old he lived to. And Botticelli, only 134. He died at age sixty-five.
I know artists that crank out paintings daily! Seriously. How? I don’t get it. In my twenties, somehow, even when I had jobs, I considered myself pretty prolific. I was able to get a painting done every few weeks, at times. Now, I have slowed down so much, I can hardly get any done. I don’t know what happened to me.
I think when I started working in series or looked at work in terms of solo exhibitions, I probably got myself tangled up a bit. I was already slowing down–on purpose at first–because of wanting to enjoy the process more, but I also slowed because I felt I had to make whole bodies of work at a time. That is not easy. That takes a good year to do.
In making a body of work, first I have to grab hold of a concept I want to work with an explore for a long time. I might have to go through a bunch of one-offs before I can get there because each piece I make may, or may not, inspire the next piece.
Since I started painting seriously (and actually counting the work), I’ve completed about 995 paintings in my life so far. That’s not counting books, etchings/prints, drawings, or other projects/installations, etc. I’m no more “prolific” than anyone else, but maybe more than some others.
Yet, I totally stress on making art faster. Faster, faster. I don’t feel this way while I’m making the work; I feel this way when I’m not doing anything at all. I feel guilty when I’m not making art. It’s awful, but I know a lot of artists can totally relate to this. I know I’m not the only one.
I posted some of these famous artist’s output to show that we are all different. Some artists make art faster than I do, than you do. Some took their time. Does it matter? And remember, artists like Michelangelo had a bunch of assistants. These people had a lot of help in many cases. Think about it.
Someone like Vincent was an exception in that he was very much in his own little world. He lived with a lot of mental anguish and needed to distract himself, throwing himself into the work to survive his madness. There have been times when I have been in this same mindset. I think because I am not as anxiety-riddled in recent years, it’s another reason I’ve slowed down.
But I think that’s a good thing.