(Mattsse, Goldfish and Pallette, 1914-1915)
On Saturday, I visited the new Matisse show Radical Invention at the MoMA. On display is Matisse's experimentation with his craft between 1913 and 1917. The show (and the curators) explained a couple of things to me.
First, Matisse would give himself a constraint (the same subject matter, the same color palette) allowing him to focus on variation in technique. Why worry about composition or subject matter if you want to focus on something else altogether?
Second, a piece could evolve quite significantly over the course of several years. One style would morph into another. We could see the faint lines of a prior manifestation underneath the end result. The subject would be shaped and reworked ("The Italian Woman" stands out in this respect). Perhaps Matisse was the inspiration for Photoshop tools?
These principles naturally extend to those of us working on our craft or design skills. By picking a direction or a mode of expression or a technique quickly at the beginning of a project, we can focus our energy on learning or experimenting with other techniques.