Les Demoiselle d'Avignon
Take a look at children's art. Children's art is usually based on what they know. Although colours and proportions may not be accurate they paint what is important to them. Family, pets, their home and friends or special moments. The result is often touching yet spontaneous and expressive.
Adult beginners will often choose subjects they like but know nothing about. For example are you painting Cape wineland scenes when you live on the highveld? This despite you only seeing the winelands perhaps once every few years when on holiday. Or worse yet painting wineland scenes from photos out of magazines.
In case you think I am being judgmental let me confess that I have painted ad lib scenes like this in my early days too. It is natural that we want to paint scenes that we find beautiful. It is okay to practice and painting is better than not painting at all right? But if you want to make real progress you will have to move on to real subjects that you know well. This advice is often told to writers, but applies to painters too.
I see many paintings from beginners that bear no emotional bond with their own experience. The artist is frustrated and uncertain about whether her art is good enough. The artist is not making a breakthrough because the subject is too detached. The personal link is missing and without that emotional connection there is no real art.
Beautiful mountain views of the Rockies will have no resonance with someone living in the karoo for instance. So why paint them? Paint the karoo if you live there. Lets take a moment to consider the impressionists. Those intrepid artists who ventured outdoors with canvas and tubes of paint determined to seek the truth in everday scenes.
What about the abstract artist or expressionist? Yes painting in the studio may make sense, but this could apply to the representational artist too. Consider Van Gogh whose scenes became increasingly expressionist yet were painted in most cases en plein air. He still painted what he saw yet this did not hinder his emotional expression. Gauguin too based his work on scenes and figures he observed first hand. Even Picasso's Les Demoiselle d'Avignon was based on actual women he observed. This did not hinder Picasso painting them in his cubist manner.
If you find yourself painting in a second hand fashion I would like to challenge you to venture outdoors and paint a local scence up close and personal. Another option is to take out your photo album and find scences that resonate with you. That you experienced first hand. Sketch a tight scene, plan the composition then paint it. You will find more pleasure from this and begin to really see the colours and values because they are familiar. You will also discover that more painting opportunities will reveal themselves once you mind and eye start seeking them out.