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Or perhaps we should be asking: When should artists experiment? and ‘Why should artists experiment?

Let’s start with the word experiment? So often, the term is misinterpreted in the context of making art. We say experiment when we mean ‘explore’. There is some overlap, but I’ll cover exploration in another post. For now, let’s stick to the concept of experimenting.

The definition of an experiment is: “a scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact.” We tend to think of this as a scientific experiment. In school we learn the process:

  • Pose a hypothesis
  • conduct the experiment to either prove or disprove the hypothesis
  • repeat if necessary

In the world of art, often when we say experiment we think of a psychological process of working out what we like and don’t like about the act of making art and the final result.

So Why Should Artists Experiment?

William Blake said, “The true method of knowledge is experiment“. That alone is the reason for artists to experiment.

We experiment to learn about our materials and our tools. Watercolour consists of pigment, and binder – we know that. We know that when water is added the colour flows across the paper. We understand that better quality watercolour paper is high in cotton content.
But we don’t know exactly how much water to add, or how intense the colour will be, or how colours react on different papers.

The artist finds and hones their own techniques by experimenting It is through experimenting that we learn how to get the most from our materials. By experimenting we develop the skills to create the colours, shapes and marks we intend on the paper.

Unlike exploration, which is a much more rambling and uncharted process, experimenting is the starting point for developing as artists.

When Should Artists Experiment?

Always! There is an almost infinite amount of art material. There are new materials being developed all the time. Colour combinations to try. Material combinations that haven’t been used before. This is the joy of being an artist. The capacity for experimentation is almost endless, and it is what keeps us growing.

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