Making research as knitting

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Sun Mar 07 2004 - 21:35:31 PST

Dear everybody-


On March 5th I heard on NPR (Fresh Air, Terry Gross) interview with painter
Chuck Close. He made interesting comments about ways how he works on his
paintings. I wonder if we can apply that to making research (also notice his
interesting reference to gendering jobs).


Chuck Close discusses his paintings:


"GROSS: What suits your personality about working in these smaller units,
one dot at a time or one grid at a time?

Mr. CLOSE: Well, you know, actually I'm a nervous wreck, I'm a slob, I have
no patience and I'm rather lazy. All of those things would seem to guarantee
that I would not make work like I make. But I felt I didn't want to just go
with my nature and say, 'Well, that's who I am. I can only make big, sloppy,
nervous, quick paintings.' I thought to construct a situation in which I
couldn't behave that way was also to address my nature.

But I found that one of the nice things about working this way, working
incrementally, is that I don't have to reinvent the wheel every single day.
Today I did what I did yesterday and tomorrow I'd do what I do today. You
can pick it up and put it down. I don't have to wait for inspiration. There
are no good days or bad days, and every day, essentially, builds positively
on what I did the day before.

In some ways, I think it's rather like what used to be called women's work,
that is, quilting, crocheting, knitting or whatever. And the advantage of
that way of working was that women could knit for a while, put it down, go
feed the baby, come back and pick it up and knit a little more and then put
it down and go out and weed the garden. And it allowed for a way to just
keep working. It's a belief in a process. For instance, how do you make a
sweater? Oh, my God, I wouldn't know how to make a sweater. But if you
believe in the process and you knit one and you pearl two long enough,
eventually, you get a sweater. And I think, given my nature, it was very
good for me to have a way to work in which I was able to add to what I
already had and slowly construct the final image out of these little
building blocks.

GROSS: How have you dealt with impatience, though? Don't you ever feel like,
'OK, it's going to take me another 12 months of these dots to have a
painting. I want to see it now'?

Mr. CLOSE: Well, you know, I do finish each area as I go so I have a chance
to see what it's going to look like almost from the beginning. But, you
know, patience is a funny thing. I used to work every day and make a
painting every day. And now I work every day and I make a painting every
several months. But work is work and it doesn't seem to take any more
patience to keep working on one piece than it did to make a different piece
every day. And the big difference is that I used to enjoy painting. I loved
the activity but I didn't care very much about what I made. And now I have a
way of working which, like I say, is essentially a positive building on what
I already have. And, eventually, I get to something about which I care a
great deal more. So, for me, that was a very productive tradeoff."


What do you think?



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