As most of my friends will tell you, I am not a man of few words. Nope, I ruminate through ideas with thorough discussion. I’m getting better though. I work very hard at speaking less and listening more. I think it’s my global thinking and my philomathy that usually get me into trouble. When I get excited about something I could discuss it all day long. Discovery and learning are passions with me.
My art however, is visual, not verbal or written. I’m a visual storyteller. I got my start in theatre way, way back in the late (19)60’s (Middle School). I went on in college to add film and video work to that. Telling stories in linear, visual media is my background. Today, however I’m a static story-teller, similar to a photographer, and the Artist’s Journal has now become my new lab.
I no longer keep an Artist’s Journal simply to capture and store ideas. In the Artist’s Journal I hone my ability to visually portray what I’m ticked off about, what I’m passionate about, or what I’m excited about. Step by step, I’m leaving planning and preconception behind.
These days I’m simply trying to begin to make art with little or no notion of what I’m even going to say, and I’ve got to tell you, that takes a great deal of courage. My training in theatre and film both required a ton of preproduction planning. Most visual art doesn’t. It’s not like I’m Michaelangelo doing the David or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Sure, if I had a public commission, I’d thoroughly plan it out, but I don’t do public commissions.
These days my Artist’s Journal is a lab or a playground where I can experiment, and “waste” materials to learn what I can do with them. Working in my Artist’s Journal allows me to develop and hone a deepening connection with life, story, and visual expression.
When it comes to self-expression, most of us don’t think a lot about what’s on our minds. We simply put it into words and speak our minds. That’s exactly what an Artist’s Journal is helping me to get better at; to portray with few words and very meaning-filled picture(s) what’s on my heart and mind.
For inspiration I’ve been visiting loads of other artist’s websites who work in Collage, Mixed-Media, Assemblage, Altered Books, Art Books, and Artist’s Journals (I love these media!). What I’ve found, especially among the Artist’s Journals, is the cathartic, therapeutic, release of laying out what’s on the artist’s mind in pictures and words. Much of it is really wonderful because it speaks clearly and powerfully, “I’m hurting,” or “I’m totally filled with joy,” or “That really ticks me off!”
My left-brain has been the root source of the disconnection. I’ve been better able to talk about what’s on my mind rather than to simply portray it visually. If I did beautiful compositions only, then I’d be producing a great deal of work without story; for me, nice but devoid of meaning.
My storytelling arts practice demands the presence of the human condition. I don’t care if it’s a gently smoking pipe in an ashtray, or a footprint in the sand. Someone passed this way. Someone with a life has been here. In fact I really love artifacts; the merest suggestion of human presence. I love the mystery of who they were, why they were “here”. That’s probably why I love Archaeology so much – but I digress.
This idea is similar to what I’d tell my casts when I directed theatre productions; out there, backstage, beyond the set is the rest of the story-world. It’s called back-story. It’s our responsibility to give our audience a sense of a full-scale world beyond the walls of the set. They need that full-scale context beyond the scenes of our play, right here on-stage. I want the same sense of back-story in my work; the art is merely a window into a larger world “beyond the looking glass”.
It’s what we, as viewers/readers bring to the theatre when we watch a good play, read a good novel, or see a good film; we see something of ourselves in these story-telling media. I want my art to suggest something larger, a back-story that the viewer brings with them to their own personal engagement of the work.
It doesn’t matter what they bring to the experience, because in reality, it’s their story. They hopefully see/experience something for and of themselves. And I’m finding that the best place to hone my skills to express story in my artworks, is through the safe, never a mistake, don’t think, don’t “fix it” sheets of my Artist’s Journal.
Have you ever had a major virus attack on your PC or laptop? Last week, even though I have Norton 360, I got attacked and it took out my entire C-drive. Up came a screen – which looked a bit different from the usual – asking for my activation code. I figured it was nothing more than an update. Wrong!
Over the next two-hours the virus erased my entire hard-drive literally bit by bit. Nothing’s wrong with the machine except that it’s had a lobotomy. It’s quite literally brain-dead. Eventually I’ll be looking for help at reloading all that’s needed to restore it to full working order.
At first, like any normal human being, I was furious. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. I couldn’t “fix” it. There was absolutely nothing that could be done. After about an hour of fiddling with it I pieced the events together and realized what had happened. Then I was at peace about it all. I wasn’t losing anything that couldn’t be replaced. Any really important stuff is saved in other media, so no harm done. Here’s the gift in it though, since I lost nothing except the convenience of a portable “use it anywhere” laptop, I was having all the symptoms of digital-addiction withdrawal. Addiction is something I know about.
Many years ago I tried to quit smoking “cold turkey” and it took three attempts over several years to actually breakthrough to where I didn’t want another cigarette. I was absolutely free of any pangs of desire screaming at me to be satiated. It was bliss.
Right now I do have use of a couple of other computers. That’s why I can continue writing, but – and this is significant for me – this entire fiasco has brought about a serious evaluation of why I use my laptop, how I use it, and what I use it for.
Confession: I’ve been pretty lax about getting to my art-making lately. It’s a Resistance thing (read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art). I was putting off working because I was, well, “working”. No, I wasn’t wasting time playing videos, or watching movies. I was doing idea/inspiration searches. With me – because I’m a philomathic global learner – it’s not very focused searching. I wander from one thing to another in an aimless meandering of utter, total, immersive fascination. Once I’ve got the “big-picture” the connections all fall into place. It’s awesome, and addictive; way better than video games!
I love learning so much that I actually hoard bookmarks. If it interests me it gets filed in my – three-levels-deep – bookmarks in Firefox. I may actually have more bookmarks than the Lord has angels, although I wouldn’t bet on it. Anyway, that’s what I was having withdrawals over – wandering searches all across the web, anytime, anywhere. I was so entranced that my latest batch of handmade coptic journals on my ETSY site had expired. Much to my embarrassment, it took an email from an interested friend to tell me about it.
So here I am using computers from other family members, but in a highly limited way. Maybe this is a Lenten thing the Lord’s leading me through, I don’t really know. What I do know is that my Lord and Master is lovingly correcting me. After all, I work for Him and I’ve been off “playing” and neglecting my work. It took a PC virus to bring it all to a halt and refocus me, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:22-23 NIV
This year I am in prayer that God will call me to deeper waters, in life, in faith, and in my art. I have asked Him for this kind of revelation and here He is delivering what I need. Aside from the fact that I didn’t lose anything important from the crash, and the laptop is repairable, the single most significant gift in the midst of that wretched frustration is that Father God restored me to my original commission. He set my feet back on course so that I can grow, dwell in these slightly deeper spiritual waters, and create works of art from a far richer relationship with Him.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Philomath – I love learning, but I do love a good book. I tend to gravitate toward non-fiction dealing with faith, art, faith & art, and creativity. The latest I’m doing a deep-reading on is Gregory Wolfe’s Beauty Will Save The World.
This culturally engaging, faith-driven, affirmation of creativity has got me by the ear-lobes and I’m so excited that I want to share just a few brief thoughts.
“My own vocation, as I have come to understand it, is to explore the relationship between religion, art, and culture in order to discover how the imagination may ‘redeem the time’.” Gregory Wolfe /pg-2.
Last October as the guest of Dick Staub, Nigel Goodwin, and Jeff Johnson, I attended a special gathering of thoughtful creatives and, like everybody else, was asked to give a 10-minute talk about my art practice; who I am, what I’m doing, and where I’m going. As I prepared my talk it occurred to me that; “What essentially interests me is the power of art, in all media, to alter the course of culture to the glory of God. I am searching for how art can communicate God’s love to the world without the trappings of mere religion, either to the Body of Christ (His Church) and to the world.” Lew Curtiss / Oct-2012
I was not many pages into Gregory’s book and realized that, here in my hands, lay much good instruction to that very process. This is why I couldn’t wait to write about this book even before finishing it.
“Just as Christians believe that God became man so that He could reach into, and atone for, the pain and isolation of sin, so the artist descends into disorder so that he might discover a redemptive path toward order.” GW / pg-6.
Further; “If art cannot save our souls, it can do much to redeem the time, to give us a true image of ourselves, both in the horror and the boredom to which we can descend, and in the glory which we may, in rare moments, be privileged to glimpse.” GW / pg-8
More and more do I encounter affirmations regarding the very high calling of faith-driven creatives of all media. More and more do I read and am further convinced that faith-driven art is the second voice of the Church (the Body of Christ), right alongside ordained clergy; that faith-driven artists – serious artists – share the same heritage in the tribe of Levi, and that we are sanctified and consecrated as God’s scribes and messengers in this world. More and more urgently – and Gregory emphasizes this in his book – is the need for serious, deeply rooted, faith-driven creatives to get to the work God calls each of us to do within His giftings and missions to each of us.
When I am finished with this first reading, this book will be annotated, highlighted, underlined, tabbed and tagged as it takes its place alongside the other reference works on my Artist’s Bookshelf; Walking On Water / L’Engle; Culturally Savvy Christian / Staub; Purpose Driven Life / Warren; The Artist’s Way / Cameron; Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain / Edwards; The Creative Habit / Tharp.
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’ve been hovering around several blogs commenting on 1) being an artist, and 2) becoming an artist. I need to begin here with my own exploration of being/becoming by stating, that so far the best handles (definitions) I’ve arrived at for what art is, and what an artist is are these; ART is highly-skilled creative expression, and ARTISTS are persons who must make art.
I don’t mean to sound all uppity and intellectual. It’s just that I’m struggling to find my own way. It seems to me being/becoming is a huge aspect of what art and art-making’s all about; discovery and self-discovery.
ART: Highly Skilled Creative Expression
As I’ve written here before about Contemporary Art, there’s very little about it that is either “highly skilled”, nor “creative”, nor “expressive.” And it’s certainly not for lack of training. Most of those who participate in the contemporary art world have earned at least a BFA, and many more hold MFA’s. So what I’m talking about has less to do with training, than well developed, well applied skills of creativity, excellence, and meaningful expression.
ARTIST: Must Make Art
I’ve worked with, talked with, commiserated with creative people at all stages of their creative careers. One central discovery which has lead me to my own definition of what I call a “true artist” is the idea that a true artist must make art. From Julia Cameron, through Madeleine L’Engle, to Eric Maisel, right into my own experiences and conversations; everywhere I turn some highly creative person is suffocating from a lack of opportunity to make their art. I won’t bore you with my own story of this experience except to say that it was arduous.
Which brings me to the part about discovery and self-discovery; the art-making I do, and that I watch others make very often contains the adventures of discovery and self-discovery. It seems to me that well applied discovery, implies growth, and with growth comes heightened abilities; the development of talents, and better skills.
This is what I dislike about the oft re-quoted saying that, “Everyone’s an artist.” I believe that everyone is creative, but certainly not that everyone is an artist. There’s only a handful of people who experience the suffocating effects of being denied (or of denying themselves) the opportunity to pursue highly skilled creative expression. As well, that same handful are driven to make meaning; to interpret, translate, and communicate.
As for “being” an artist, well to my mind, there must be a willingness to pay the price of discovering and developing one’s skills and talents. I’m one of those artists who struggles with my creativity. It doesn’t come to me as it did to either Mozart, or Conan Doyle, already finished in their heads. No, I’m like so many others I encounter; we have to search, and experiment, and make wonderful mistakes, and feel our way toward the finished work. It’s a journey akin to chopping my way through a jungle of fears and excuses, the judgements and opinions of others, and my own self-doubts to uncover something of creative meaning. It’s a process I’ve discovered about myself, and have come to embrace it.
I’ve also found that “being” an artist is a life-choice; a 24/7 openess to input, ideas, and inspiration. It’s often a perception of the world others usually find odd, different, and even peculiar. It’s a willingness to grapple with this stuff and figure out a way to live with it, to get it out in some kind of creative manifestation, and share it with others.
Becoming an artist; well to my mind, that’s a life-long pursuit. It’s a choice to get into the trenches and commit to whatever it takes. I remember popping out of college, degree in hand, feeling so finished and complete. Like my peers I was ready to make my mark in the world. Because school was behind me I figured that I had learned just about all I needed in order to get out there and make my art. Are you laughing yet?
In the daily process of art-making, I quickly learned that what I left school with was merely an ability more akin toward imitation than to originality. Little did I know that the wondrous journey of discovery had only begun. And I think most artists begin this way. I see it in young artists of all media all the time; they begin with what little they know, and that’s usually only what they’ve studied in school. I was no different.
It has taken years, decades even, to be willing to make this mistake ridden, experiment laden journey to find out who and what I am, and then to see my own creative voice emerge from all of that experience. And on it goes, the daily joy of discovery, and development; of growth in self-awareness and abilities.
Some additional perspectives and insights;
Making Meaning | The Cult of Genius | Sarah Jane Gray
jeffberryman | Don’t Forget What You’re Doing | Jeff Berrymen
Stone Works | The Need to Pay Attention | Luci Shaw
Would love to hear your views and experiences;
How do you realize the idea of “being an artist?” What does that mean to you? How do you pursue “becoming” in your art-practice? As it pertains to your art-practice, what does “being” and “becoming” mean to you?
It’s nothing new, we’re all buried in information of sorts. I’m up to my armpits in my own set of three-r’s; reading, writin’, and research. The internet is my haven for wading through mountains of information and knowledge in search of wisdom and meaning for my arts practice.
Currently, I’ve got three book concepts I’m researching to see if they’re worth doing, and what approach I want to take. I’ve got three art-making projects in the works. I’m swimming through books and blogs about minimalism, simplicity, culture, and faith & art. I’m learning to manage how I gather so it serves my process and I don’t drown.
Finding My Own System
Among the many blogs I read are several which offer good advice about how to “manage” these often divergent resources. Some of the advice works for me and much does not. I’m a gleaner, and a searcher. I gather tips and tidbits which actually work for me and discard the rest. I’m not one of those who thinks, “Oh maybe, someday it’ll come in handy.” No, it’s either valuable now or it’s gone.
I used to force myself to conform to the “systems” of popular organizational gurus until I realized that unless it helps me make meaning, I’m not going to bother. That doesn’t mean they’re offering bad advice, it’s just not good advice for me. I mean, you’ve got to love on yourself a little bit, get real, and do for yourself what actually works.
Like many philomaths (major love of learning) I’m an information hoarder. I go searching for one thing, and end up sideways looking at something related to the original, but definitely not the original. I get it from my dear Grandmother who raised me to enjoy (and I really do) trawling through dictionaries and encyclodepiae. I’d begin with one word, and while reading the definition, if there was another word I didn’t understand, I’d go look that up too. Soon I had a growing relational chain of thought(s). It taught me nuance.
Realizing that I need to get back on track, I now “file” the blog/website URL in my “favorites”. Now, I’m not going to give you a precise count, but I’d guess I’ve got some two-hundred website/blog URLs in dozens of folders because I don’t need a cloud, I need to actually find meaningful resources.
I house-clean about every two or three months. I may use something in a folder and see the loads of other “favorites” in there. I go through each and in a flash, without thinking about it, I look at the website homepage and make an immediate decision – keep it or ditch it. Most I ditch because I don’t really need then anymore. Their project is done, and I’ve moved on.
God Bless Blog Aggregates
The same goes for blogs, and I read (using Google Reader) a load of blogs. I’ve become really picky about their quality too. When I began reading blogs regularly, I created a folder, one for each day of the week, and browsed each of them on their day. Then I learned about aggregate readers and how they’ll show you what’s new and what’s not. It saves me going through each and every blog just to see if there’s anything new. It also shows me when a blog’s gone dead (no new posts for weeks/months) – bye-bye!
Eventually, I had built up a list of about 80-blogs. If they were highlighted by the reader, I’d browse them for new material. If they were not, if they didn’t have something new, I’d skip them. That worked fine right up until I got to this full-on list and the the daily “reading” was two or three-hundred new posts. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got other things to do. I need to move on.
So, to use the oft abused and misused word, I “evolved” to a simpler system. First, I renewed the folder per day discipline, and though I am tempted to “peek” at say, Wednesday with its one-hundred new posts (LifeHacker is excellent, but they post a bundle of new stuff each day), I don’t look. I restrain my self and I really, actually read the new posts from that day’s blog folder. Instead of merely glancing and feeling like I must move on, I actually get something out of it.
My Digital File Cabinets
I’m the same way with “notes” (my current favorite clipper is EverNote). Today, my file cabinets are digital and they hold gigabytes of stuff. I gather, and pile, and accumulate until eventually the original idea hiding in there reveals itself and I can make meaning. Like most creatives, I gather, incubate, and create, giving birth, as it were, to something meaningful and new. And the only way that process continues is if I keep tweaking how I manage my three-r’s.
Leave a Comment: I’d love to hear from you.
What’s your system for remaining sane in the sea of creative influences? What creative sorting or piling do you use? What does your creativity demand, and how do you fulfill that need?