I was in London at the Tate Gallery a few weeks ago studying the works of J.M.W. Turner. His paintings take my breath away.
I didn’t know this fact: most of the paintings that we recognize as Turner’s are actually paintings he never finished. His paintings remained works in progress until he hung them in a gallery or at an exhibition to sell.
Turner worked on several paintings at once, and always carried a sketchbook with him—there are 300 of these fat little sketchbooks at the Tate Gallery alone, each chock full of lovely watercolors, his “practice” sketches for his final paintings.
There are 19,000 Turner paintings in British museums. That doesn’t include the paintings that aren’t in British museums.
Turner lived from 1775-1851, 76 years. If he started painting when he was 10, and only painted those hanging in British galleries, he would have painted 287 paintings per year. And I’m not talking about desk top art, I’m talking about giant wall- covering paintings.
And that doesn’t include the 300+ sketchbooks.
Studying Turner is a lesson in humility. A serious artist –writer, musician, chef, dancer-- engages in her art. She doesn’t wait for the right moment, she doesn’t wait for inspiration. She paints or writes or sings all day. Every day.