Tuesday, 27 July 2010

finding your place

When you go back to research, you have to rebuild the structure of ideas - it's fallen down, the bits are all over the floor. You have to read, and think, and let the connections be made, let the structure re-form. It takes time. There are long periods of mess, everything in a fog.

When you go back to painting, it's the same, except that you don't have to read and think. You have to look and feel. Watch and wait. Let the shapes come out of your mind, some shadow place of emotion and being. Though, for me, it doesn't actually seem that the shapes come 'out of your mind', in that myth-of-creation way I talked about before. For me they come in the form of a response. The myth-of-creation says that the stuff arises mysteriously, flowing magically outwards from within. My experience of creation, however, is that something in the world comes to my attention, or back to my attention. It's my attention that changes. The stuff is outside, not inside.

Instead of reading and waiting, you can do and wait, or look and wait. It seems so obvious, now that I'm doing again, that the non-doing has to be within the doing. And yet, I also don't entirely agree with myself. Periods of incubation, of other kinds of being, still seem to be as important a part of it all.

Monday, 26 July 2010

confused-mind anxiety

'What will you choose to do next? Don't you naturally reel back in confusion, anxious about not having a really vivacious idea to work on, anxious about having too many, anxious about choosing among these bright or dim ideas, anxious about choosing for the wrong reasons or rejecting for the wrong reasons, anxious about the quality of the one idea that seems to be separating itself from the pack, anxious about the confusion and confused about the anxiety?

In the face of such anxiety and confusion, isn't there a great pull to just skip being creative? Choosing is such a terribly uproarious, stressful, and confusing business: it demands resolution, even if that resolution is to flee. The anxiety of this choosing stage is confused-mind anxiety, and what one desperately wants is clarity to replace the pain and anxiety of confusion, but that is a wish that can't be appropriately realised at this moment.

You can be clear that you will proceed: that is courage. You cannot, however, be clear about the idea or that you have chosen correctly. That sort of clarity is not available to a creator at this stage of the process. But how wonderful clarity feels! It feels so wonderful to know which menu to select or which movie to watch, wonderful to know that an idea is worth choosing and that one is competent to tackle it. How much pressure there is to attain clarity! What then happens when we strive for clarity when clarity is an impossibility or frankly undesirable? We reach inappropriate clarity only.

You can gain this spurious clarity by:
  • knowing everything about the work because internally you killed it, stuffed it, embalmed it, and mounted it beforehand. Yes, the idea is clear now, mounted above the mantel. And dead.
  • knowing everything about the work because you engaged in some inner manipulation that provided the clarity: exchanging clean, clear plot for real-life ambiguity and complexity, returning to an old comfortable chord scheme rather than encountering a presently unfathomable chord scheme, deciding, in the space of an image, to be tricky with the image rather than self-challenging. These inner manipulations, available to a beginner and veteran alike, provide clarity at the expense of the idea's sanctity
  • knowing clearly that the work will turn out well.... This clarity, which seems like nothing but necessary optimism, endangers the process. It is one thing to have high hopes for the work and a good feeling about the work. That is splendid. It is quite another to presume to know how the work will turn out beforehand; clarity of this sort is a close cousin of wishful or magical thinking
  • knowing clearly that the work will not turn out well. This defeatist  attitude, which depresses the artist and depresses the idea, seems reasonable enough if one turns a statistical calculation into a state of mind. You say to yourself, there have only been a handful of great, original novels ever written. So the odds must be ten thousand to one... against my novel being great... To work with optimism and passion, you must operate under the illusion that the odds are very different from these and much more in your favour. This adaptive illusion, which should amount to a kind of certainty in the body, is the equivalence of saying, 'The hell with the odds. How does it help me to think such depressing things?' Do not be clear that the work will fail. That sort of clarity is a death threat to the creative process.
Clarity like this is not worth posessing. On the other hand, all of the following are things to be clear about....'

Maisel, E. (1995) Fearless Creating Tarcher Penguin pp60-62

Mmmmm. Wonder what he's going to say next....

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

doing and not doing, again

Some of not doing what you want is procrastination, brought about by fear of failure, confrontation with the thing that's so important to you. But, despite all the books so helpfully making suggestions about how to 'overcome blocks' etc. it seems to me that non-producing might sometimes be as important as producing. Not acting as important as acting, non-doing as important as doing.

Firstly, because of the need for food. If you haven't had enough food, and you make yourself sit down and do something, what results can send you into a further sense of hopelessness and futility. The paint or marks seem lifeless. The image screams - you see? More of this rubbish. Give it up. Though I do believe that eight out of ten times you do need to simply stop dithering and start doing, there's this edge to it that can suck the life out of what comes out.

Secondly, I, at least, need space somehow, before I can draw or paint. Perhaps it's the space that simply forces action, in the end, out of having nowhere else to run to. But it has also felt to be more than that. In certain environments I've been unable to resist the need to draw. Living in the Himalayas, for example, drawings started appearing because I simply could not resist the shape of monsoon clouds over the valley any longer. As well as novelty, and intense natural beauty, however, at that time I also had new space - teaching only two hours a day, and that quite often cancelled. For a while I felt guilty that I wasn't earning my keep more diligently. Then it began to dawn on me that space was ok. That I didn't need to be harried and pressed into every tiny moment of every day. And then out came the drawings.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

making images

Then it dawned on me. Part of the reason that I'm free to do, and not doing, is because the whole 'being a painter' thing doesn't work any better now than it did then. The whole idea of 'making art' is oppressive, for me. It oppresses almost like parental or educational expectations; an externally-driven set of judgements, based on history, and fashion...
When I started painting again two years ago I wasn't thinking of 'painting'. I just started making images. Cheat images, really, images that used scans, and computer enhancement. Not clever, serious art at all.
And that's what I want to do. Make images. Trivial, frivolous images. Images that come out how they want to come out, images that somehow manage to break free of that art tutor who is STILL in my head, saying, 'don't be tight, don't be graphicky'.  Why can't I be 'graphicky' if I want to? What's with all the judgements and rules?
This is my trivial begonia. Glowing at me from a pot in a pub in the middle of a hilly Scottish wilderness. Not serious, not art. Just me in a pub, watching the light...

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

blocking, freeing, working...

I'm still thinking about Jim's question about what's better - a considered response, or one from the gut. That's one that needs to percolate for a while...

Meanwhile, I was struck by something Kathleen said on her FB site, about avoiding the creative aspects of our selves by 'getting on' and being busy. This interested me because this morning the following thought wandered into my mind (curiously, or not, a little after a dream about someone in my past making me eat the brightly coloured sweater a friend gave me when I was at art college - mmmm....). The thought was: 'I became an academic so that I could go on avoiding trying to work out how to be a painter'.

Here I am. I've resigned from my post. I've hung up my thinkpic jobs for the summer. I'm well. And, for some reason or other, I'm afraid. Not doing it. Wandering about, doing all sorts of things. Except drawing, or painting.

Someone told me yesterday about a comment on the radio in relation to creativity - that you have to work hard to be creative. That creativity isn't this thing that (in many people's imagination) 'just happens'. You know, that fantasy about the muse, that idea that people who think they aren't creative, but of course are, often seem to have about creative people 'just doing it'. I'm not creative, they say, I can't just create stuff, like X can.

But creative people don't just create stuff either. They work. And, also, they know how to take stuff and prism it. In our last Artist's Way group, someone commented on what a wonderful sense of colour a member of the group had.  How do you do it, we said? How do you know how to put these exquisite colours together? She looked amazed. I just look outside, she said, at the garden....

Sunday, 4 July 2010

objecting to abstract

It's not that I didn't know that it was simply a matter of shapes and patterns,
before that moment two years go. But somehow the knowing changed.

A lot of people might look at these two paintings and try to decide which one was better than the other. A painter might feel immediately inadequate in front of Cezanne's wonderful appleyness, fearing that he or she could never 'capture' real forms in this way. But it seems to me now that it's nothing to do, really, with the capturing of forms. Both paintings are just paint. Paint which either makes you feel something, or it doesn't. You could, in theory, be drawn in to the one on the left, despite its lack of cleverness or depth, because it evokes something for you - knowing it or not, you might suddenly feel a Sri Lankan forest in monsoon rain; the corner of a dream; a sense of possibility. The one on the right might, on the other hand, just make you think of old geezers poncing around in smocks. Either way, they're both just paint.

Not that paint that makes you feel is very popular these days. I was thinking about what Kathleen said about the body, and it suddenly occured to me that a conceptual approach to making images stays up there in the head. An aesthetic or moody response is, on the other hand, an issue for the gut.... Now don't anyone start in on the problems of simplistic binaries. I know! But I'd also say that Derrida never said we weren't allowed them, only that we have to look carefully at the work they're doing. And for me right now, simplistic ol' head/body is doing some powerful work....


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