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Posts Tagged ‘Creativity’

I have been in a funk in the studio for the past couple of weeks. It feels as though any momentum or confidence about my work that I thought was permanently embedded in myself seems to have completely evaporated. I should have known better than to think that things had changed, that I had somehow gained some new kind of unwavering confidence that would inure me to my natural uncertainty. This happens quite often with me, as I have documented here before. Like the words from Goethe below, my own progression as an artist moves in a spiral, sometimes pulsing forward and some times retreating.

Evolution and dissolution.

I went back to a post that I have twice posted here that describes a time not much different than my current situation. I felt out of sorts and uncertain, definitely in need of a pep talk that could only come from my own experience of overcoming this inertia. Here’s that post:

Robert Smithson Spiral Jetty

Progress has not followed a straight ascending line, but a spiral
with rhythms of progress and retrogression, of evolution and dissolution.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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I was looking at a book catalog yesterday, just browsing for something new and I spotted a book on the works of Robert Smithson, who is best known for his monumental earthworks. The most famous is shown here, the Spiral Jetty, which juts out into the Great Salt Lake in Utah. I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by earth-moving on a large scale and have admired Smithson’s work whenever I came across it.

The reason I mention this now is that I found myself thinking smaller lately, painting smaller paintings for a smaller economy. Part of this was a conscious decision but part was the result of just becoming a little more wary with all the turmoil in the world. There has been a period of introversion marked by a noticeable withdrawal from thinking boldly. Seeing this reminded me of the need to think big.

I realized I had become a bit fearful of pushing myself, perhaps afraid of exposing my limitations. I had lost a little faith in my own abilities, including the ability to adapt to new challenges.

I was being safe. It was the retrogression that Goethe talks of in the quote above. I was in the spiral.

This all flashed in my head within a few seconds of seeing the spiral jetty. Funny how a single image can trigger a stream of thought with so many branches off of it.

I had forgotten that I had to trust myself and throw the fear of failure aside, that thinking bold almost always summons up the best in many people. Once you say that you don’t give a damn what anyone says, that if you fail so be it, the road opens up before you and your mind finds a way to get you on it.

So I have to remember to think big.

To look past the horizon. Just freaking do it.

Then progress will come…

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So runs my dream: but what am I? 
         An infant crying in the night: 
         An infant crying for the light: 
And with no language but a cry.
                                                                                                          .
Alfred Tennyson, Canto 54, In Memoriam A.H.H.
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I came across an online article a few weeks back that captured my interest. Written by British designer Benjamin Earl Evans, it is titled 11 Brutal Truths About Creativity That No One Wants to Talk About. It’s a pretty short read.
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Many of the points Evans makes seem pretty evident to me– your ideas are not original, everybody is creative, creativity is hard, success depends on the assistance of others and so on. Art, like any business or real endeavor, is filled with difficulties and harsh realities and if someone has spent anytime trying to be a working artist, they recognize many of these as absolute truths.
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Perhaps the greatest difficulty for the visual artist is that you are faced with the prospect of competing with other artists, many with greater skills and training than yourself, for dwindling opportunities to show your work in the traditional gallery spaces that best gets your work in front of prospective collectors. Add to this that the artist then has to have their work somehow create an emotional bridge to the viewer, something that connects with them on the most visceral level.
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I find myself often wondering what might be the differentiating factor in why the work of some artists succeed at these difficult tasks while the work of other greatly skilled artists does not? It is surely something beyond technical prowess and a solid resume. Something almost indefinable.
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Evans provides one possible answer in this article, one that stopped me in my tracks with its simple obviousness– allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
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It made me think the many times I have seen artists with incredible technical and observational skills create work that just doesn’t seem to reveal itself emotionally. Perhaps their ability has overshadowed their need for expression? I don’t know that answer.
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But reading that, I immediately recognized the place of vulnerability and my willingness to share it in my work. I realize that my fears and shortcomings come through in my work.  My weaknesses, my uncertainties and my tears are readily on display as are my affections, hopes and aspirations. Even my lack of certain skills is a vulnerability that I am willing to expose and share, mainly because I cannot hide behind them.
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Maybe that kind of vulnerability is one of those differentiating factors. I don’t know for sure though I tend to lean that way in my belief. How does an artist gain vulnerability? Again, I don’t know. Not even sure they can outside of trying to work on those things that allow them to really feel deep emotion.
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No easy answers, unfortunately. But for me, I will continue with my transparency, my own vulnerability. It’s all I know.

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I do what I can to convey what I experience before nature and most often, in order to succeed in conveying what I feel, I totally forget the most elementary rules of painting, if they exist that is.  In short, I allow faults to appear, the better to fix my sensations.

–Claude Monet, 1912

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I have had this little sign hanging in my studio for the last 16 years [over 20 years now], a rough reminder to myself when I begin to feel like my work is bending to the rules and judgments of others.  It reminds me that I am working in my own realm, my world.  I control the parameters of what is possible, of what defines reality in my work.  The rules of others mean nothing in my little painted world.

Over the years  I have glimpsed this small sign at times when I have been feeling that my work is stagnating or beginning to adhere to  accepted conventions.  At those times I have been spurred to push my work in some new direction.  It might come in the form of heightening the intensity of color or introducing new hues that seems incompatible with nature, for example.

It’s as though these two words are prods that constantly  tell me that nobody can control me when I am here in my created world.  There’s a great liberation in this realization and I find myself trusting my own judgment of my work more and more.  Because I have created  my own criteria for its reality, criticism from others means little now.

I think that’s what I am trying to get at here, that an artist must fully believe that they are the sole voice of authority in their work, that they, not others, determine its validity. Maybe that’s why I am so drawn to  Outsider artists, those untrained artists who maintain this firm belief in their personal vision and create a personal inner world of art  in which it can live and prosper.  Rules mean nothing to them- only the expression of their inner self matters .

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Lately I have been thinking about how people find their individual creative voices, how it evolves and is influenced by what others think.  We all too often heed advice that fits in a one-size-fits-all world when we need direction that takes in account the singularity of our talents and our aims.  Many of us also dismiss the creative expressions of our emotional selves as somehow inferior to those from known creative talents as though they had a monopoly on the feeling and expression of emotion.  I think the individual voice grows when they transcend this feeling and realize that their point of view is as valid as that of any other person, including the greatest artists working in their field.

There is a lot more than can be said on this subject but it brings me to a post that I wrote here back in February of 2009 that describes how I came to this realization of my own validity.  I wonder how many artists, writers, musicians and other creative people have experienced this same sense of  inner intimidation and have succumbed to it, putting aside their quest for their own voice?

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GC Myers- The AngstWhen I used to enter a gallery or museum, even up until several years ago, I would be filled with a severe sense of dread and anxiety. Angst. The knot in the stomach. The racing pulse. The whole thing. 

I would go from painting to painting and would feel lessened because in each piece I would see something that I could not do, some technique that was not in my toolbag. There were colors and forms that I could not replicate and all I could think was that I was somehow inferior. 

I didn’t belong. 

The resulting feelings would leave me reeling and sometimes angry, making me even more determined to create something that would validate my work. 

While this was a motivating force for many years, helping me actually find my voice, it gradually subsided over the years as I became more and more aware that I had been focusing on things I could not control and on being something I was not. 

I began to see what I was. I had an individual voice and vocabulary that was mine and mine alone. I began to see that other artists felt about my work as I had felt about their work. I saw that while they were doing things that I could not, the reverse was true as well. I recognized that my voice, my technique and style, was finally mine and mine alone. I saw that my form of expression was every bit as valid as any other artist hanging in any gallery or museum. 

This was a liberating feeling. It allowed me to go into galleries and museums and , instead of seeing what I was not, recognize the beauty of expression that was there and be excited and inspired by things other artists were doing. Instead of coming out saying ” I’ll show them ” I was saying “I can use that”. 

It was merely a matter of trusting that what I saw in my own work was a true and real expression and would be visible to others. I think this a lesson from which any viewer of art can benefit. They must learn to trust their own instincts and reactions when looking at art. Like my self-expression, their reaction to a work is theirs and theirs alone. Their reaction is as valid as anyone else and no critic or gallery-owner can make a person like a piece that doesn’t move them. When the viewer realizes that there is no right or wrong, that their own opinion is truly valid, their viewing pleasure will increase dramatically. 

By the way, the piece at the top is an old experiment from around 1994. I always enjoy pulling it out even though it doesn’t fit neatly into my normal body of work. No more angst. 

Well, a different kind of angst…

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noThere’s an interesting article on the website Medium by tech pioneer Kevin Ashton (best known for coining the phrase “the internet of things“) called Creative People Say No.  In it he talks about how productive creatives — productive is the key word here–  understand the limitations of their time here and as a result weigh every request for their time against what they might produce in that time.  It immediately struck a chord with me as I have known for many years that my time as both a living human and artist are limited and that for me to ever have a chance of capturing that elusive intangible answer that goads me forward, always just a step ahead of me and just out of sight, than I have to mete out my time judiciously.  We have X numbers of hours and doing something other than that which I recognize as my purpose  represents a real choice.

Ashton echoes my own feelings when he  writes:  Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation.

So, over the the last 15 years, I have wrestled over every choice that takes time away from the studio, in most cases declining invitations to all sorts of functions and putting off travelling and vacations.  Even a morning cup of coffee with friend or family requires serious debate.  For a while I thought I was agoraphobic but I know that’s not the case.  I just view my time as extremely limited and shrinking at a constant  rate.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a painter friend a number of years ago.  He had brought up the name of a well-known artist whose work he admired who was incredibly productive.  My friend bemoaned the fact that he himself wasn’t as productive and wondered how this person could do so much.  In the conversation he told me about all the activities that his life held– traveling , classes, music sessions with friends and time with his kids.    I couldn’t bring myself to point out that he would have to start sacrificing something in order to be as productive as this other artist.  It was obvious that his X amount of hours were spent differently than the other artist, who I should point out also had a studio staff with a manager and several assistants to boost  his productivity.  My friend made the choices that he felt were right for him and who could argue that his kids didn’t deserve even more of his time?  

I think of this conversation quite often when I am faced with a choice other than spending time in the studio.  Even writing this blog entry is gnawing at me because it has exceeded the amount of time I want to spend on it this morning.  That being said, i am going to stop right here and get back to that thing that I feel that I have to do.

Read the article.  It’s a good essay.

 

 

 

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GC Myers Studio 4 AMSometimes you can almost hear it click.

It happened this morning about 3 AM as I was laying in bed trying to convince myself that I really needed to get to sleep,  to try to grab some rest.  But my mind would have none of that.  It was spinning and snapping– things that had to be done,  ideas for upcoming shows, new compositions that I wanted to get down.  My head was racing and it felt like a big ball of anxiety was building inside of me.  In the past I might have written it off as such.

But for me it was a huge relief to have that knot in my stomach once again.  It was like the big click of a switch going off inside that was triggering some creative surge.  I had felt this before and had missing it as of late.  I know that it sounds funny to bemoan the fact that anxiety and fear have been absent in one’s mind.  But I knew from experience that this anxiety was something just trying to push itself out of me.  Something to which I had to respond, had to harness and use.  React to and express.

When I did the interview for the TV crew  last week, they asked what painting meant to me and I struggled in coming up with an answer.  I can’t remember exactly what I told them.  I guess the answer should have been that painting gave me a way to make this anxiety that has been my lifelong companion take a positive form.  I have learned to embrace it and when it comes around with that big click that is telling me there’s something on the way, I react.   So here I am at 4 AM, happily in the studio,   already having prepped new panels, jotted down the images that were dancing in my head and am getting ready to break out the paint.

Click.

 

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