1157_10200754970055686_113377938_nTen times is probably a good number for deciding if you like a thing.  And a hundred times is surely a good number for mastering it (or for beginning its mastery).

Degas thought you should repeat things the way that a ballerina repeats her dance steps or a musician practices a musical figure.  You gain skill and sureness with each repetition.  But sometimes you also gain ideas.  The differences between one repetition and another can sometimes lead to new ideas. Thus it’s a source of invention in art.


“Il faut refaire dix fois, cent fois le même sujet.”  You must redo — ten times, one hundred times — the same subject.

across the room jan 6 2012

Certainly one hundred times is excessive if you don’t love the thing.  But ten times is a way of gaining skill.  And ten times offers enough repetitions to get to know the subject in a preliminary way — to learn it.  With ten repetitions you find out if you do love the motif — whether or not it’s the right motif for you.

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And if after you’ve done the subject ten times, you wish to explore it further then you know that your love is deep.

You could do ten versions of this, and ten versions of that, and discover through the process what kinds of things matter to you.  Somewhere in that process you will find that the subject holds deeper meaning (even if you don’t know what that meaning is).  At that point you want to plunge in and really explore its every aspect.  Exploration leads to invention.


detail of the drawing

I have certain subjects that I return to again and again.  I did not begin them with the idea that they would become my particular venues.  I went into the subject innocently.  But I was heeding some call — even if I was unaware.

I am not sure how many subjects I have — some I’m keenly aware of — the koi, flowers, seashells, certain kinds of landscape.  If I did one hundred of each — GOODNESS —  that would be four hundred right there!

Degas is a strict task master!  But this is all stuff that one loves.  It would be wonderful to do one hundred repetitions of each subject!

Today I’m beginning the Big Tidy Campaign of 2017 and part of tidying is taking inventory.  I begin this inventory with an inventory of my thoughts — and of my fishes!

8 thoughts on “dix fois, cents fois: Degas’s advice for artists

  1. Exploration leads to invention…..I like that! what was the initial genesis of your exploration of your koi fishes? I think that it isn’t just the color that I love in your paintings of the koi but the expression that I see in them. That to me is the meat of your subject. The color in your still life and florals jump out to be front and center first and then perhaps the marks of expression. I find that to be interesting. Know what I mean?

  2. I’m not sure I know what you mean, Margaret … but I can say that the koi began because I wanted to do something abstract that had a subject. Actually I had an opportunity to participate in an exhibit and I wanted to put something large into the show. I was wondering what could I paint that would be large that I could paint fairly quickly (the show was a few weeks away). So that’s how the koi got started. I had some pictures that I liked and I thought I can do a triptych using acrylic paints. I got three canvases (about 40 x 60) and laid each one on the floor against a wall. Then I painted like crazy!

    I could paint them fast because of the medium — it dries so fast and you can paint corrections directly over parts you’ve already painted. Those three canvases were the first koi. Then I began doing them in oil too. But the initial reason I chose them — abstraction that had a subject — was probably more than I realized. You pick a thing, but sometimes you don’t know really why. I have come to love the fishes and I see more in them the more I paint them.

    “Expression” — is that the marks? I do like using them as a way of playing around with paint as paint. Also for the fun of drawing — in using line as line. Is that what you meant? Thank you for your sweet comment and for asking a question that I have fun answering, kind Maggie

  3. Oh my I didn’t mean to confuse. Often I can see the intent or the expression of the artist and it will stand out so clearly and in your paintings, this is so vivid…..sometimes it is the way the person handled the medium, the marks or choices is that expression. The color handling can often feel like the expression rather than simply the marks, if that makes any sense. lol sometimes trying to express myself gets all befuddled but I try. 😉 I find that it is interesting what will start an artist on exploring a subject, I love hearing about the beginning of that exploration.

  4. Well, befuddlement can be a source of invention as well … I too think it’s interesting what gets someone started on a thing.

    At the time it felt like I “just” wanted something colorful, kind of abstract, but with a subject and something relatively fast. Ah, but “just” — especially after all these years. I think the kois were singing a siren song and I heard it — but didn’t know it!

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