New Wine

Sunday, 19. October 2014 23:04 | Author:

It may be that you have never even thought about photographic formats, and you probably did not expect to be reading about them today, but a recent experience caused me to think that there may be something valuable to be learned from them.

Those who know my photographic work know that I do abstract work, much of which is sort of a photographic collage that assembles separate images of parts of a subject into a new image wherein the relationships between the parts are changed. In order to present these ideas I often arrange the images in a variety of gridded structures which allow me to examine and modify those relationships.

Let me hasten to say that I do not believe that there is anything wrong with the single-image square or rectangle (in any number of length-width ratios). Many photographers would never consider using anything else. I use them myself, but for this recent work, more complex formats provide a better structure.

This gridded structure was what I had in mind as I began work on my latest project. The photo shoot was challenging and quite lengthy, and I recall thinking at one time that the subject matter was unlike anything I had ever done before. I did not realize how different until I looked at the images in LightRoom.™ As with almost all of my shoots, there are a few images that I want to print just as they are, with no collage, no restructuring. And in this shoot, there were those. However, among the other images the potential relationships that I am used to seeing and restructuring were not there.

My first response was something close to panic. I had no idea what to do. Once the panic subsided, I realized that I would have to find new ways to deal with this material. This subject matter and the formats I had thought to use were simply not a fit; existing structures, at least those in my repertoire, would not support this imagery. What to do?

Take a flying leap into the unknown: create  new structures. Find new ways to talk about the relationships of the parts. Think not just out of the box, but out of the warehouse.

This could have been devastating. Instead it was exhilarating. The old structures were comfortable and provided a known framework on which to hang images and ideas. But this material demanded otherwise. New forms were necessary to allow the communication of the ideas and emotions I was going for.

So I set out to develop new structures, new ways to present the material, and I am still developing. It is definitely a work in progress, and currently I am at the stage where I don’t like much of anything that is “completed.” So I have decided to let images sit for a time before I go back to them for editing or reconfiguring or trashing and starting over. But since I can’t quite let go of the project, I am using that “dead time” to write about it.

The lesson? Regardless of our medium (it is not such a big jump from photography to other arts), we must not confine ourselves. Yes, sometimes it is both comfortable and exciting to work within the confines of a given form, to find the limits or to find variants of those forms that might work better for certain subject matter. But sometimes even a complete reworking of old forms won’t do the job. Sometimes, the structure of the containers themselves must be different in order to reflect the uniqueness of the subject matter. Perhaps we may even want to consider new forms and structures every time we do a new project. New wine requires new bottles.

Category:Aesthetics, Creativity, Presentation | Comment (0)

Seizing Serendipity

Sunday, 5. October 2014 23:52 | Author:

Photographer/writer Kayla Chobotiuk begins her brief Juxtapozarticle, “’Salt’ by Emma Phillips” with the statement, “Sometimes the best subjects aren’t planned or scouted, but simply happen by chance.” Certainly some of the most fortuitous turns that a creative process can take happen mysteriously, seemingly “by chance.” But I rather think something else is happening.

A number of artists have commented on the idea that at least a part of their art comes from a god, or a muse, or inspiration, or a daemon, or some other supernatural being or higher power. Julia Cameron has said, “Creativity requires faith. Faith requires that we relinquish control.” It is a theme that comes up repeatedly in her writing: “I learned to get out of the way and let that creative force work through me. I learned to just show up at the page and write down what I heard.”

Regardless of what you think of Cameron, or of supernatural beings for that matter, there does seem to be, at least in the minds of many artists, a recognition of ideas appearing spontaneously and mysteriously from somewhere outside themselves. Many artists will talk about tapping into the universe when they are working.

The idea then becomes to develop a process that creates conditions that allow for the arrival of those new and sometimes surprising ideas. This arrival event is called serendipity. Defined as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for,”serendipity is sort of a “happy accident,” and is recognized in scientific discovery and business as well as art.

The accidental aspect of this theory troubles me a bit. It is difficult for a rational person to believe that many of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries, business advances, or works of art were the result of happy accidents. But if not some sort of accident or supernatural intervention, then what? My answer is the subconscious, and the ultimate process by which we get there is called flow (discussed previously here, here, here, and here).

Flow theory says that artists who are in flow are not even aware of themselves, resulting in ideas seeming to come from some mysterious otherwhere. Essentially, what happens is that in flow consciousness all but disappears, allowing the subconscious to take control in a way that it usually does not. In flow we can see relationships that elude us in an unaltered state. Possibilities emerge that in a normal, waking state would remain hidden. In other words, flow, or a flow-like state creates a state of mind that enhances creativity, that invites serendipity. The characteristics of flow are much the same as meditation, which also is said to aid in creativity.

Other methods seem to me to be rebranded expressions of flow, or methods of inducing flow. Indeed, Cameron’s exercises are designed to generate the conditions of flow so that creativity will “come.” And there are other ways to invite serendipity into our creative process: James Lawley and Penny Tompkins suggest in “Maximising Serendipity: The art of recognising and fostering unexpected potential – A Systematic Approach to Change” that through preparation one can “invite” serendipity and systematically take advantage of it. Whatever method we choose to prepare, the next steps are always the same, clearly diagrammed and explained by Lawley and Tompkins: recognize the potential of the unexpected and seize it!

What we find is that such events can lead our art to places that we would not have consciously thought to go, and will invariable make it better. It’s a little scary, so some would rather stay on their comfortable, preplanned course. Others, however, would say, “When the universe presents a gift, it would be very bad form not to accept.” I must agree.

Whatever path we take to get there, we must, as Lawley and Tompkins advise, learn to prepare, then to seize those opportunities when they present themselves—if our work is to be the best it can be.

Category:Creativity, Originality | Comment (0)

Art or Masturbation?

Monday, 22. September 2014 0:54 | Author:

If one is to believe Susie Hodge and Jackie Higgins, authors of Why Your Five-Year-Old Could Not Have Done That: Modern Art Explained and Why It Does Not Have to Be in Focus: Modern Photography Explained, respectively, a significant portion of “modern” art is little more than artistic masturbation. These writers certainly do not say that; what they do say on page after page is that much recent art has been produced for the entertainment and pleasure of the artists and those few who are knowledgeable enough to get the joke. Additionally, that art which is not meant to be an inside joke, does little more than make an obscure comment on the contemporary art world, or the medium, or the audience. Such comments are just another form self-referencing self-pleasure.

And the comments can be mean-spirited. One artist is said to create work “to satirize…the inflated esteem for traditional materials…to mock viewers for their acceptance without questioning…to ridicule artistic conventions and snobbery.” Now all of that may need doing, but when one reads it over and over and over again, it’s not just a single artist attacking the current state of art, it’s a trend. And on top of that, many times the artist’s intent is so inwardly-directed that it has to be explained.

The artistic inside joke, and art produced for the entertainment and pleasure of the artist and a close circle of like-minded friends is not new. Remember Marcel Duchamp? However, Jed Perl in his review of Jeff Koons: A Retrospective makes the point that Duchamp, the “inventor” of the readymade, meant Fountain as personal and private joke—a comment on the art world certainly, but probably not intended for exhibition. That is a very different sort of thing from the gaggle of artists producing and showing work simply to be able to pleasure themselves with a sly giggle.

And what gives them pleasure is the self-reflexive, the inside-inside joke or comment: “photography that is about photography;” paintings and sculptures which are comments on the art world wherein they exist and nothing else; plays about doing plays; movies about making movies; books about writing books.

There is certainly nothing wrong with writing or painting or photographing material that is self-reflexive. There is, however, at least in my mind, a problem when the work of art does not reflect or comment on its world in a way that a potential audience of non-insiders might understand, when it serves merely to entertain the maker and those three people who “get it.”

Certainly there are artists who are commenting on things outside the art business, but sometimes it seems that the ones who are making the money are the ones who are participating in the inside jokes. Perhaps because those who support the arts with their dollars want to be in on the joke, so whether they get it or not, they buy a couple of tickets, or a painting, or a piece of sculpture, thereby proving that they’re “in the know.”

Wanting to be in on the joke is a very different thing from actually appreciating or understanding a piece of art. As Perl points out, those who hail Koons as “the high-gloss reincarnation of anti-art” likely do not “know what anti-art is all about.”

It seems to me that while inside-joke art is interesting, and even apropos of the current situation of the arts, it’s cheap. It’s masturbation. It enables the maker and his/her inner circle to be privately funny and sly and ironic at the expense of everyone else. And more often than not, it is the obvious joke, the easy joke that allows the artist to avoid dealing with a broader world, doing real work, using real imagination, making real art.

Category:Audience, Creativity, Presentation | Comment (0)

The Illusion of Simplicity

Monday, 8. September 2014 0:47 | Author:

This post started with the thesis that good art is complex, which often means has many layers or many interactive parts. Some who agree with this position will talk about how much they enjoy discovering the intricacies of a piece, which increases their appreciation of the work.

Then two things happened: (1) during a conversation with an actor about the difficulties of producing the musical, The Fantasticks, the actor said, “But it has to look simple.” I said, “Yes it does.” What I thought was, “It always should; it should look effortless.” (2) At a juried art show reception that same week, I found myself looking at a stunning black-and-white land/seascape of the Galveston estuary. Another photographer was telling me, “He [the photographer who made the image on the wall] has been moving toward minimalism for a couple of years now.” Minimalism had not figured into my theory concerning complexity as a necessary characteristic of quality art. These incidents taken together caused me to rethink the whole idea, resulting in a new question: If complexity is one of the marks of quality art, then how does one explain Minimalism and similar sorts of work?

The answer came with the realization that the word complexity can have two applications in reference to art. (1) It can be apparent complexity, as in a work with many facets and/or layers and parts that interact on many different levels. This is the sort of complexity you might find in the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, Salvador Dali, or Jackson Pollock. (2) Complex can also be used to describe the process by which art is produced. American filmmakers, for example expend great effort to hide the artifice by which their work is created, opting instead—at least in most cases—for a story that is easily digested by the audience, allowing that audience to concentrate on the characters and the plot without having to be concerned with how difficult it was to create that seamless narrative.

And this second meaning of complex applies to some things we have already mentioned. We will work very hard to make not only The Fantasticks but any play, no matter how complex, look effortless, for much the same reason as the filmmakers. This is true of nearly any performing art; all seek to hide the difficulty of the task by employing the highest levels of expertise. Both performers and those behind the scenes do what they do with an apparent ease that belies the unending planning, training, preparation, and rehearsal.

Even though we think of them differently, visual and plastic arts are much the same. The photographer who made the piece mentioned above did not do so by simply setting up his camera in the grasslands and snapping the picture. If you are familiar with photography, you realize that this image was the result of a great deal of planning, better-than-competent execution, skilled post-processing, and expert printing, all so the result would be precise, clean, and minimal.

Whether it is a Buddhist raked rock garden or Donald Judd’s 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, the creation of such apparently simple things requires enormous imagination, planning, and expertise. But, just as in Hollywood films, the artifice is hidden.

So it turns out that good minimalist art, or any art that appears effortless or visually simple may not be simple at all; nor was it produced easily. The complexity and the effort are just hidden. If you’ve ever tried to this kind of work, you already know: simplicity is an illusion.

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Buddha Got It Wrong

Sunday, 24. August 2014 23:18 | Author:

Well, he got it wrong with regard to creating art, at least in my estimation. Two of the basic tenants of Buddhism are non-attachment and the middle way. Non-attachment is normally presented as essentially “holding the world at arms length slightly and looking askance at it.” This applies to pleasures as well as pain. The middle way is “a balanced approach to life and the regulation of one’s impulses and behavior” between “self-denial and self-indulgence.”

The last post suggested that passion is a requisite for making art. If that is true, then the artist could not be detached or distant. Rather, the artist must be invested in the act of creation or the results, even though technically perfect, are likely to be mediocre or worse.

For example, not long ago at notes for a play rehearsal in a production utilizing very young actors, I heard myself tell one of those young actors that he needed to “own” the cross that he took in a particular scene (We had already had the motivated/unmotivated cross discussion). His mental and emotional detachment from his movement made his work unbelievable. Actors must own, or at least appear to own, not only their movement, but their words and gestures as well.

And “own it” is what other artists must do too. No matter what our medium, we must invest ourselves in our art. We must connect with it and nurture it and love it and hate it and expend our passion on it. Otherwise, it is likely to be bland or mechanical and certainly less than it could be

So while the notion of non-attachment may be an excellent principle to live by and while it is very, very useful for an artist when the creative process is over—in the critique, showing, and selling stages, during the process of creation, it is a distinct liability. It keeps us from engaging with, investing in, and owning our work.

The middle way, avoiding extremes, is also a very useful way to approach life. And it is also useful after the creative process has come to an end. The middle way coupled with non-attachment can be a great help to us in withstanding criticism and rejection, which, unfortunately, seem to come with life as an artist.

However, while the artist embraces creativity and the artistic process, he/she may be lead into behaviors that are anything but balanced. Obsession or creative frenzy is necessary—at least for some artists. Many have commented on it. George Sand said, “The trade of authorship is a violent, and indestructible obsession.” Barbara Streisand said, “I’ve been called many names like perfectionist, difficult and obsessive. I think it takes obsession for any artist to be good.” Obsession is the opposite of the middle way; rather it is an extreme single-minded self-immersion in the process of creation. Hazel Dooney has summarized, “Art can never be part of a balanced life. It only works if it’s a complete obsession.

So Buddha got it wrong? Certainly not with regard to life, but it does seem to be so with regard to creating art. Perhaps I do not fully understand the concepts of the middle way and non-attachment, or maybe I don’t fully understand creating art. But the more I think about it, the more difficulty I have in reconciling these notions with the intense attachment and extreme focus that it takes to make good art. Your thoughts?

Category:Creativity | Comments (4)

An Artist’s Passion

Monday, 11. August 2014 0:15 | Author:

Not long ago someone told me that she admired my passion. Passionate is not a word that I would normally use to describe myself. It seems a bit pretentious; I was pretty sure that passion was something that belonged to other people—probably those who spell art with a capital “A” or who view themselves as Romantic with a capital “R.” Now it’s true that I feel things deeply and believe things strongly, but I also believe in logic and reason and have a very practical nature as well—hardly passionate. But as we talked, I learned that what she meant was that I go all out when I’m interested in something. True. If that’s passion, then I guess I have it.

But if people have passion, what do they do with it? We read “follow your passion” in lots of places. It’s advice given by Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Jim Carrey and any number of other artists. At the same time there are many who give contrary advice. Interestingly much of the contrary advice is given by people who have record of successfully following their own passions, but who then urge others to take a path they consider more practical. Additionally, it seems that they believe that if people follows their passions, they will fail to develop skills because they will simply rely on the passion alone, or they might burn out.

These arguments might be valid if that is what happened, but often it isn’t. What really happens is that when people are really passionate, they not only want to spend time on whatever it is that interests them, they work to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to further their development in that area. So they go to school, apprentice themselves to someone, take internships; in short, they do all they can to make themselves more proficient in the area of interest. And if the passion continues to live, they continue to develop and work—at increasingly higher levels.

The question of money also comes up in the writings of these naysayers. There is no question that money is necessary to survive, but to make art to get money is, according to almost every successful artist, exactly the wrong reason to do it. Artists who agree acknowledge that they are not willing do some of the things required to maximize income from their art. This may cause them to make fewer dollars than might otherwise. For example, Terry Border just announced publication of his new book in a blog post, and in that same post explained why he would not provide a link to the book, even though his not doing so cost him money. But making a little less does not necessarily mean that following one’s passion will lead straight to the poorhouse.

One way some finance their passion is by taking a day job (This has been discussed here before). There is certainly nothing wrong with this approach and much to recommend it. It will, however, will give a person less time to spend with that which interests them. For some, this price is not too high: they have sufficient income to live and sufficient time to devote to their real interests. Some are even lucky enough to find a related job, or at least one that is tolerable, which makes life that much better.

It’s difficult to see how any artist could survive without passion. As noted in the last post, “the work is too demanding and never-ending and informs the entire life of the artist.” An artist without passion is at best an artisan and at worst a fraud. So I’m with those who say, “Follow your passion.” My advice for those with passion is to let it loose, follow it, and develop skills and knowledge that help realize that passion. Fail occasionally; learn from that and succeed. Learn even more, and make the art that passion demands.

 

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Chop Wood Carry Water

Sunday, 27. July 2014 22:45 | Author:

There is a Zen saying, “Before Enlightenment chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment chop wood, carry water.” And, as with any Zen saying, there are multiple interpretations. I have always interpreted it to mean, “You must do the daily work, regardless of any attainments.” Sell your most expensive and most complicated piece, do the daily work; reach another level in overall sales, do daily the work; win a nationally-recognized award, do the daily work; have a piece accessioned into a major permanent collection, do the daily work. Artists do the daily work.

This was reinforced recently by two posts that appeared on Brain Pickings, one about the creative ideas of Ray Bradbury, and one about the creative ideas of Leonard Cohen. These are two radically different artists, but no one can deny that they are/were complex, prolific, and worthy of respect both for their work and for their influence on other artists. In these posts, they both discuss failure; neither man seems to regard failure as a negative thing.

But what—to me—is more interesting is what they have to say about work. In discussing his training in the Montreal School of Poetry Cohen says, “There were no prizes, as I said, no rewards other than the work itself.” Chopping wood and carrying water is its own reward.

Much has been written on the Buddhist notion of work, but it seems to come down to losing oneself in the work and working with “a spirit of joy and magnanimity.” It is considered a significant part of life, so regardless of age or station or the level of enlightenment, attainment, or fame, the real engagement is in the process of work, which is, in the case of the artist, the creative process. Cohen talks about the difficulty of this work; Bradbury talks about the differences between “made work…to keep from being bored,” working for money, and meaningful work, which he calls “true creativity.” He even suggests that we redefine the word work—meaningful work—as love.

Without that love of creative process, very few artists could continue; the work is too demanding and never-ending and informs the entire life of the artist. Cohen says, “We would read each other[‘s] poems. We were passionately involved with poems and our lives were involved with this occupation…” And that involvement has continued. Even though he talks about “hard labor,” Cohen continues with that labor. “So I always had the sense of being in this for keeps, if your health lasts you. And you’re fortunate enough to have the days at your disposal so you can keep on doing this. I never had the sense that there was an end. That there was a retirement or that there was a jackpot.”

If you really love the work you’re doing and you are capable of doing it and that work is meaningful, why would you even consider retiring? Most artists are far more interested in the current project or planning the next one than in taking it easy, no matter what age they might be. Remember Stephen King’s retirement? Even the rumor was short-lived.

And so, artists, real artists, do the work. They may garner applause, money, awards, fame, but they do the work and they continue to do the work until they are no longer mentally or physically capable. There is, after all, meaningfulness and renewal in the process of chopping wood and carrying water.

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Thinking Like an Artist

Sunday, 13. July 2014 23:44 | Author:

For a number of years now, one of the least-well-known arts which I have practiced has been pyrotechnics, both the stage kind and the display kind. Some would say this is not an art at all, and in some cases, that is true enough. But some of us who shoot, know that there is indeed artistry involved. There are design choices in terms of product, color and size, patterns of shooting, and, of course, timing. So a pyrotechnician can make a show into a piece of ephemeral art—or not, depending on his/her skill, imagination, and temperament.

This July Fourth found me on the grounds of a country club working as part of a crew on a pretty sizable show, functioning as second shooter (it was a show requiring four hands firing), and mentoring the primary shooter. She was a young woman who had worked on several shows and who had been licensed for some time, but this was the first show of which she had been in charge. (Her day job is art teacher, which becomes important later.) The show was designed to be shot according to a firing track, which is a copy of the music being played for the audience with a voice telling the operator when to fire.

Most of the day had gone well, but as we started wiring the mortars to the control boxes, we became aware of serious weather headed our way, so our time was split between wiring and watching radar. (What did we do before smart phones?) To summarize: we slowed down because of the weather; then we let an unreasonable client push us into shooting before we had had an opportunity to fully check out everything. The primary shooter was nervous, and made more nervous by the situation.

About 30 seconds into an eighteen-minute show, it became apparent that we had some seriously defective equipment. On top of that, we were having unpredictable electrical problems, and it had begun to rain. It didn’t get to the point of unsafe, but it was certainly unsure. If you need help understanding the situation, this was the equivalent of being on stage in front of a full house with three other actors who have suddenly forgotten 30% of the show, but each a different 30%.

At 45 seconds, I realized that she had mentally thrown away the firing track. Later I learned that as soon as she had understood that the start times were mismatched (ours and the audience’s) and that there were equipment problems, she decided the track was worthless; a person less presence of mind would have followed instructions slavishly. Instead, she decided to wing it.

Somehow she managed with (we later determined) only two-thirds of the equipment working properly to keep the sky lit up for 18 minutes, 3 seconds with no significant lapses. The whoops and applause at the end of the finale said that she had succeeded.

In talking with her long after clean-up, she said that as soon as she pressed the first button, a calm overcame her and she lost all nervousness. I praised her ability to throw away the firing track and do a very respectable show of the proper length anyway, something even some seasoned pyrotechnicians would have trouble doing.

She said, “You know, people give you rules, and then you do what you have to, to do the job. That’s what artists do, right?” Right.

It was one of the clearest statements of the way an artist’s mind should work that I have heard, particularly coming from a person of her age and experience. The thought was very similar to one expressed by the far more experienced designer, typographer, and art director Neville Brody who said in an interview with Lee McCormack, “I started to realize quite clearly that…design rules were irrelevant….It led me to thinking that anything was fair game, anything was challengeable.”

We learn the rules, the techniques; we develop a knowledge of our medium. We absorb the principles. And using all of that in the background, as it were, we create. Sometimes that act of creation requires that we bend, break, or just ignore the rules. Rules don’t matter when you’re making art. Process matters; flow matters; artifact matters; performance matters. Sometimes—perhaps more often than not—that means that we have to color outside the lines.

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Art and Reality

Sunday, 29. June 2014 23:49 | Author:

Tim Crouch writing in The Guardian maintains that reality, any reality, kills theatre, particularly reality in the form of working clocks, running water, fire, and kisses, not to mention full nudity, children, and animals. He feels that those things, precisely because they are so real, break the illusion of the theatre and essentially stop the show.

He’s right of course. Reality can intrude on the narrative flow of a performance. But the causes of the stoppage can vary. In the King Lear example he cites, the cause of the stoppage was not, I suspect, the Edmund-Goneril kiss, but the young audience’s lack of maturity: they were unable to distinguish between the reality of the kiss and the fiction of the kiss. Experienced actors can pull off the fiction of a stage kiss, or nudity, for that matter, but they have to have an audience sophisticated enough to make the distinction.

In other instances, it certainly can be an acting or directing problem. One of my earliest lessons in theatre came in a notes session after a rehearsal of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. At one point in the play, the character Mick throws props about, wrecking the room. The director told the actor that he had to pull back because he was too real, and in being too real would threaten the audience. Once threatened, they would no longer be watching the play.

This incident contains the kernel of a principle I have used ever since: once the audience stops worrying about the character and starts worrying about the actor, or themselves, you’ve lost them. And often you don’t get them back. And if you are working before an audience that is not sufficiently mature to handle the material, then it is up to you, the actor or director, to adapt the work to your audience—if you want to keep them.

Where I think Crouch is not right is in his assumption that artists want to put more reality into art. To make his case, he quotes the beginning of Reality Hunger by David Shields: “Every artistic movement from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art.” A brief examination of the history of western art will demonstrate that this is not true, not to mention that in artistic traditions other than western there is often no attempt at reality.

What is true is that since the beginning of time artists have tried to put into their work more of what they think is true. Truth and reality are not the same thing. Artists who work in figurative styles, which, according to Crouch would be some older painters and theatre practitioners, usually aim for verisimilitude, not necessarily for reality, and most would agree that verisimilitude is very different from reality. A quick comparison between the movements of theatrical Realism and Naturalism make the point quite clearly.

Crouch notes that “the visual arts left this figurative dependency behind years ago.” And there is a reason for that. Visual artists learned that there were better ways to present their vision of truth. Some performing artists have attempted to abandon “figurative dependency” as well—with varying degrees of success. Embracing reality is but one of the ways that can happen; the result is, as Crouch suggests, performance art, not theatre.

At the bottom of it, we all know that Matisse was right. It is not a woman, it is a painting, or a photograph, or a narrative performance, or a ballet, or a musical composition. It is not reality; it is an artistic representation of truth.

Category:Aesthetics, Audience, Communication | Comment (0)

A New Take of Refreshing Creativity

Sunday, 15. June 2014 23:34 | Author:

Almost every expert on creativity will tell you that you have to take time off, probably on a regular basis, to keep your creative batteries recharged. Leisure is so important, at least according to Eric Ravenscraft writing on LIfehacker, that we should put it on our to-do lists rather than waiting until we “earn” it.

Whether it is the leisure itself that is important or the time away from work I cannot say, but every report I have seen stresses taking a break from work to refresh creativity and thus improve your art.

There are, of course, lots of choices of what to do with that break time. Some of us have tried just doing something different: getting up from the computer, easel, workbench and finding something else to fill our time for a while—maybe something as simple as taking a walk. Sometimes that works, but many times we find our minds wandering back to whatever creative problem we just left. Some of us have tried yoga or meditation, and we have discovered the same problem: our minds keep drifting and we have to constantly work on focusing them (although some would argue that focusing attention and concentration is a good skill to have).

A friend of mine who is a photographer and a writer claims that he has found the ultimate creativity-freeing technique. He did not initially set out to do this; rather, he decided that he wanted to learn to play the guitar, and to learn to read music as well. He not only took lessons, but worked with several self-teaching books. He said that while picking out a tune was not too difficult, reading music and associating the notes with the correct string and fret position required intense concentration, as did the scales that came later. Since this man is a bit obsessive, he was practicing at least an hour a day every day.

He says that after a week’s practice, new ideas for photography and writing began to appear. The longer he practiced the more ideas he had. Initially, he thought that it was one of those complimentary activity things: he was working on one art and it spilled over onto another one. Then he realized that with regard to the guitar, he was not making art; rather he was trying to develop a skill, and that what was making the real difference was that he was spending at least an hour a day concentrating on something that was not his not his main area of creativity, and that developing the necessary skill required complete involvement and the exclusion of all else.

Now he maintains that this study is responsible for his new flow of ideas. He is actively concentrating on developing a new skill that is difficult for him so his mind cannot not wander the way it might with other activities. He says the results are much the same as meditating for an hour a day. The complete occupation of his consciousness sixty minutes a day allows his subconscious to create new concepts.

So now his writing is coming more easily and his visual ideas keep flowing, and he is developing beginning guitar skills. He says that he may never “really play” in front of anyone, even friends, but intends to continue studying because he is enjoying the learning experience and really appreciates the ancillary benefits.

So, if you want to freshen you creativity, you may want to learn to play a musical instrument; there are plenty of teachers out there. Or you may want to consider some other skill-based activity, if not a musical instrument perhaps wood-carving, or furniture-making, or gourmet cooking or anything that requires complete concentration to learn the fundamental skills, and that same amount of concentration to master the activity.

My friend’s results have been so impressive that I may try this out myself. Maybe you should too.

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