Developing Variation

Thinking back to an earlier post in which I described using a finished piece as the “score” for another one, I realize now that the reason the effort didn’t work was because I was burdened by the idea—a rare moment of conceptuality for me. What kept breaking through was my tendency to reinvent each work as it went along, not something to repress or inhibit. In fact that’s the right way to treat a preceding picture as a score. The result would be a series that didn’t grow out of an idea but developed itself into something unexpected. This will be an important topic in my forthcoming book. The thing is to give the series more momentum, to have it break away from its own concept, in other words, to develop it through variation. As it turns out, “developing variation” is a concept from music theory, invented by Schoenberg. I don’t think my way of doing it could be exactly the same as the composer’s—a little less rigorous in the treatment of form, meaning less reducible to a single motif, but a great way to work with the series. It’s there in my Geomorphic Fantasy, but I didn’t see it quite that way. Maybe this is what my watercolors have been moving towards. A variety of basic units, like contrasting motifs in music, all building the form together—so far so good, but development calls for a series, or at least multi-part works. Variation as in music is something Klee would have understood.

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Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor 2009

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