Friday TRY-days: An invitation to Experiment. Art/Write by Peter Pitzele

Experiment: from the Greek peiran: to try; also from the same source, our word peril. With the prefix ex-: to try out, to test, to experience.


Though artists like to think of themselves as adventuresome, the truth is that many of us find our niche, our style, our medium, and we stick to it. The mastery we seek comes from practice, and practice in art is a process of refinement and repetition. There is a conservative pull for the artist, one that commerce only exaggerates: Sell a piece and the market wants more of the same.


Experiment, as the word tells us in its etymology, carries some sense of peril. If we are honest, the opportunity to step out of the box is a little anxiety-producing though we might not be able to say quite why. Yet without such ventures perhaps we are in danger not just of repeating ourselves but of losing something of the original excitement of discovery that inspired us to dare the artist’s calling. Which brings me to The Art League’s invitation to face down anxiety and face up to the chance to try something different: Friday TRY-days.


Jan Guarino Outside a Scottish-Church

To get closer to what this experience of experiment might mean for Art Leaguers, I asked some of the teachers in this program about their own experiences with going outside their comfort zones and their chosen media. Here is what they had to say:


Jan Guarino talks of a painting trip to Scotland and her first experience of plein air. “So different from my studio,” she said. “I stepped into an arena that really stretched me. My observation sharpened; my timing got keener because changing light was a huge factor. The necessity to determine what to get down first was amplified.”

Anu Annan talks about a show of collages she mounted made from her torn and cut watercolors. The show was called “Rebirth.”


Anu Annam Broken wc collage

“When I tried to follow someone else’s rules, the resulting painting was not what I wanted at all. I tore it up, first in anger and then very decisively. Then I reassembled it, carefully taping it back together in layers by what felt like instinct. Pieces of the painting hushed a mouth, twisted a cheek and left gaping holes in the head and side of the face. “I was both relieved and energized while releasing the painting from its bonds of boundaries of shape, two dimensional depth and biological order. I was tearing it apart and reconstructing the image, wishing to renew the meaning of the painting by collaging the torn artwork onto itself. The shapes that were formed were organic, as in a sculpture, and were free from squared-off dimensions. The tearing was more visceral than the strokes of the paintbrush.”


And here’s what Mary Nagin had to say:

Mary Nagin The Decoy, pastel

“Teaching has been an experimental process for me. So much of what I have taught I have had to learn on the fly. The exposure to a variety of learners with a variety of commitments to being artists and to a variety of methods has been enormously important for me. While my own preferred direction became clear, the teaching forced me to learn other directions. And in ways I can’t always detect these other directions inform my work. For example, watercolor can teach you to keep things simple. Sculpture forces you to think in the third dimension.


Experiment outside my comfort zone has often allowed me to gain a visceral sense of my own work. Experiment has refreshed my art, and frankly it’s not so bad to feel a bit of incompetence, uncomfortable as that may be. Humility for an artist is an important thing; there’s a risk of repeating what has succeeded. Success and mastery, so necessary to sustain the work, can also be a little dangerous to creativity.”


These insights remind us of what is valuable in risking the experimental opportunity. Both Mary Nagin and Anu Annan used the same word, “visceral,” to describe what entered into their works in the process of experiment. And all three artists spoke of the way experiment “refreshed” their relationship to their chosen medium. Friday TRY-days offer members of the Art League a chance for adventure.



The second in the series of Friday TRY-days will be on May 1 from 6:30pm to 9:30 pm. TRY-days will take place every other Friday at the same time until the end of June.


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Art/Write by Peter Pitzele offers profiles of ALLI artists and faculty, previews of coming exhibitions, reviews and interviews, and every now and then responses to art of all sorts that might stimulate community conversations. Peter has been a student of Stan Brodsky here at ALLI for a number of years—he is primarily a collage artist—and has a long interest in exploring how words and the visual work of artists might jibe. For more of what Peter is up to see