I’ve turned yet another corner in how I make what I make. Every time I turn a corner of innovation (making something “better”) it gives me pause. I tend to turn back and, for just a moment, enjoy just how far I’ve come on this particular journey.
With each new “generation”, perhaps iteration is a better word, of the work I make; with each simpler, more powerful, process of making, I am liberated. I am also exhilarated, because each new step I take in the journey represents new creative possibilities I hadn’t encountered before. It’s almost as if the art itself is alive and maturing, which it is in a way.
I am, of course, a living-breathing artist. I get into the studio 6-days a week and joyfully tackle the practical process of making meaning from the mountain of materials I have at hand. But I am, as all artists ought to be, endowing the work with a small part of me. I mean, you can’t help it. Give three sax players the same tune to embellish with their solos and you’re going to get something that is distinctly “them”. In that way our art is alive.
Being a “living” thing, process becomes journey, and journey is process. The work seems to mature as does this artist. And that’s part of what I love about being an artist; I am always growing because I am always being challenged to make meaning more powerfully, more concisely, and more succinctly. It’s what theoretical mathematicians call “elegance”. It’s like enjoying a good glass of Port. Time has removed much of the water and concentrated the essences, bringing forth a powerful bouquet of aromas and flavors to be enjoyed.
Perhaps that’s why artists who’ve been working at their art for a good many years make it look easy. Well applied experience brings out a confidence and an ease when working. Experience also teaches that to remain open to new innovations of expression deeply enriches the work. Again, process is journey, and journey is process.
I began these Collage Quilt Blocks I make back in 2007/08. I was seeking a new personal visual art that I could create that was original. My first works are overdone in many ways; heavy handed, if you will. But each generation has become lighter, more balanced, and now is taking on entirely new forms of expression. As I streamline the process of making, there is more room in the work for meaning.
I don’t know if I’m making any sense to you. But it seems that as I loosen my grip on what I’m doing, and how it gets done, the work itself has more room to breathe and to speak to me. As I become less heavy-handed, using less brute force to make what I have intended, and instead simply “dance” with the materials, I find the work takes on a life of its own. Together we become something more than when we began the process.
Journey as process. Process as journey. This whole thing; this dance I’m so privileged to take up every working day involves my relationship with God, my attitude toward myself, and a humility in the presence of the creative process Himself. In the end, it seems, that not only is a work of meaning made, but we are as well.
What have been, or currently are your experiences with the on-going maturation of process and journey in your art practice?
You’ve seen them at variety shows, and circuses; plate spinners. To great fanfare and energetic music they place long thin rods into a base on the floor and proceed to balance a plate atop each by spinning it. They begin with maybe four and by the end of the act they’ve got eight, ten, maybe twelve or more plates up there spinning away. The suspense of this show is that the performer must run from one plate to another whipping the rod round to give its plate the spin needed to stay up there. The grand finale is that, for a mere moment, they can actually stop long enough to take a bow before rushing along the line of rods collecting their plates without dropping a single one.
I don’t know about you, but as a working artist and a global thinker I can sometimes get too many plates spinning. These gifts of being both global and a philomath are driving forces to my art practice, but unless I channel them somehow I break far more plates than I spin. I get far too many “ideas” about what I might make. I get to thinking about how to show ‘n’ sell my art long before I’ve even created any. It’s frustrating.
In the last several of weeks though, I’ve finally got some of this discomboobulation figured out (which is why it’s been so long between posts here). I’ve found that if I mix just the right amount of disciplined art-making time, with just the right amount of flexibility I can actually get the work made without losing other tasks between the cracks.
In the past I’ve tried everything from rigid schedules, to no schedule and everything in between. I’ve set digital reminders (like egg timers) to tell me that it’s time to go here, do that, and make this. In that milieu though, the uninterrupted serendipity of creativity simply hit the floor. Then I gave up entirely and just did what seemed to be the right thing to work on at the moment.
For example; Have you ever gone onto the internet specifically looking for one thing, but getting drawn down various other fascinating bunny-trails, and after two or three hours of fascinating wandering, discover you’ve gained nothing? Being a philomath it happens to me all the time. So how do I organize myself in ways that enhance how I’m wired AND get the best art made at the same time?
It took a lot of experimentation but, I am now trying out what I call a Work Guide, and so far it’s been wonderful because I’m getting good work done and lots of it.
I found that the artist in me needs regularly set aside hours of uninterrupted, focused, making. I need to be free of concern for other tasks; learning, marketing, portfolio, CV, etc. I need to know that none of these other important items will be overlooked or forgotten. I also had to ask myself what the most important thing about my art practice really is. It’s about making the very best art I can at this moment, and yet I’m not a creativity factory. I’m not doing this just to “produce”, hence the gentle, uninterrupted art making time. The solution God gave me is wonderful in its simplicity.
I now commit to making art for at least 5-hours every morning beginning at 8am, and I will work on only one of the three types of art I am currently making. On Monday & Tuesday, I bind books. On Wednesday & Thursday, I make Collage Quilt Works. On Friday & Saturday, I make Collage/Mixed-Media Paintings. After lunch each day, I review my other commitments. If there’s nothing needing my attention, I just keep going with the morning’s work.
The exciting thing for me is the juxtaposition of both sacred / don’t interrupt me / must do the work art-making time, and the fluid / open-ended / serendipitous flexible time of other tasks and commitments. When I get to my afternoons I can rest assured that the Main Thing was tended too – Making Art for that day. In the afternoon I’m free to go on an Artist’s Date (Julia Cameron), or other refreshing, creativity nourishing outing. I’ve done the work and I can “play” if I want to without any guilt (art-journaling / photography / sketching / drawing / reading).
It all reminds me of Twyla Tharp‘s wonderful book, Creative Habits: How to Develop and Keep One. She uses habits, what she calls “rituals”, to get her started, focused, and prepared to make meaning for the day. Come what may, good days, lousy ones, she goes through her rituals and gets the work done. It happens because she protects her creative self and her process through meaningful, preparatory habits / rituals.
I’m sorry Julia Cameron, but I must delay my Morning Pages for five hours until after I’ve made my art for the day. Anything that needs attention, like a wonderfully nagging great idea, is parked quickly and briefly onto a note pad and I get right back to the making. The Making of Art is the Main Thing, everything else in my practice is in support of that fact.
So far it’s working really well! Oh, there’s my 8-o’clock alarm. Sorry, I gotta get to work!
How do you deal with your own productivity in balance with all else that you do and are? What works for you? Do you know how you’re wired for learning and creating and are you caring for it?
I’d like to think that as the things I make enter and live in someone’s life in some way our spirit’s connect. I’d like to think that someday when I’m gone the objects of art and craft which I’ve fashioned will retain that connection, whatever it is.
I’d like to think that the object(s) itself, having been fashioned by a human-being, rather than a machine, carries something of me with it into the life of the the person who possesses it. I’d like to think that they will always value the nuances of the object(s), the so-called imperfections, seeing them for what they are; marks of the maker.
When I handle something handmade, whether from past generations, or from an art studio or gallery, I am holding an object which has been thoughtfully made. A person did far more than merely design this object. They also fashioned it. They gathered their materials and guided them into an object of meaning. I enjoy the impressions of the maker; their marks. In fact I look for them; brush strokes, penstrokes, tool marks, hand impressions. I like to imagine them gathering their materials, and perhaps without much thought, through years of experience, guiding an object of meaning into being.
I’d like to think that, in some way, I’ve made some kind of precious impression through the object(s) I create; to have transmitted something in common with the owner(s). I’d like to think that my work is valued, not only for the sustainable, up-cycled aspect of my art practice, but that it is seen as something which interprets, translates, and communicates meaning, either mine or theirs.
Certainly I want to make a good/decent living at my art practice. But I am far less interested in fame or fortune, and far more interested in leaving behind a substantial body of work which continues to transmit meaning. With the singular, personal objects I’m privileged to make, I’d like to think that the connection between our spirits, my patrons and mine, will be both valued and eternal, perhaps for generations to come.
Our youngest son attended an overnight youth-fast event at our church and when I went to pick him up the next morning he was all a chatter. He is normally when he’s really excited about something, but on this morning he couldn’t wait to tell me about a program he’d seen at the retreat.
Last evening the youth group sat down and watched a couple of really informative presentations. The one I want to share with you, the one which excites me as much as it does my son, is The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard.
From the website…
What is the Story of Stuff?
From its extraction, through sale, use, and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.
I have long lamented – very long – that much of our “modern life” seems predicated upon the idea that we’re here to make money for the IRS and the GNP. I love our great nation, but there’s just got to be more to life than ripping resources out of the ground, to make stuff we think we want until we don’t want it anymore, instead we want the next one. Then we throw away what we already have, or worse, we actually pay someone to store what we don’t use.
It reminds me of films like George Lucas’ 1971 feature motion picture, THX-1138. The concept there was very much the same; make more, sell more, buy more. By the way this is not a film for children.
That’s enough of that…
I encourage you to have a good look at The Story of Stuff. It’s informative, not a ranting ecologist with an axe to grind. This is real information creatively presented.
Watch it several times and see if there aren’t some things which make sense to you. It’s a really fun presentation. It’s only a short 20 minutes, and it is very suitable for kids. Enjoy!
Engage. Enlarge. Respond.
I love to read and believe reading is an essential tool for my growth. I think people often underestimate the life enhancing, even life changing power of really good books read deeply. So here one book in progress.
I am hammering my way through this fascinating psychological treatment on mindful creativity. Just the premise of living mindfully is tremendously powerful. The book?, On Becoming an Artist by Ellen J. Langer.
The most concise way I can describe mindful creativity will make the most sense to actors. When I’m on-stage in a scene I must listen. I must pay intimate attention to what is being said, to what’s going on, to where we’ve been and where we’re going with the work. To act mindfully is to be “in the moment”, to sell out and become completely engaged in the work. Mindful creativity is engaged creativity, a listening if you will to the work; think the opposite of robot, or automaton, or even auto-pilot.
When we live mindlessly, we’re disengaged and running from one meaningless event to another on auto-pilot. We’re not thinking, we’re just doing. We’re bored and shut down. When we live mindfully, we’re interested, we’re engaged, we’re afraid and taking healthy risks, we’re growing.
I’m excited about this book, although the less creative, more psychological approach the author takes is a little bit left-brain for my ears. This isn’t Julia Cameron’s incredible The Artist’s Way where we’re encouraged and nourishing our attitude toward our art. No, Langer is a psychologist and deals with this subject from more of a behavioral paradigm. That’s what makes the book a little more difficult for me. There’s still a great deal of insight and wisdom here well worth mining out.
I’ll post more on this book as I move through it.
Here’s to living mind-fully!