Act of creation

Hello. How are you? Me? Well, I whacked my head on a mailbox Easter weekend at my parents' house and ended up with three staples and four stitches on the top of my head, but that's about it excitement-wise. Luckily for me it was under my part and missed cutting my forehead by about 1/8 of an inch so no one could tell. The doctors didn't even have to shave my hair, so my vanity was spared. I wasn't really out of commission for long but it was an excellent excuse for procrastination. Which means, as is my habit lately, not writing anything here for the last month. 

I think I spend half (or more?) of my artistic process feeling stuck. James told me yesterday that one thing to do is to see the gremlin in my brain, touch it, say hi and then take the other path. However, he and I agreed that it's a slow and frustrating process. The attempt to dig new, healthier furrows along my synapses can be very daunting. The small-step way to think about it is the well-known notion that if I made one image a day by the end of the year I'd have 365 pictures, which is a hell of a lot. But guess what? I suspect that many (most?) of you artists out there get frozen thinking about how 364 of those pictures might be garbage, even though you and I both know that you have to make a bunch of crappy work to get a gem. I admit it, I like instant gratification. I want that body of work to come together now. I want to be immersed in the fun part of the creative process, when it's all coming together, without making the shitty pictures first. 

Case in point: lately I've had all of these ideas for paintings, collages, installations, mixed and multi-media, and I get these flashes of excitement thinking about the overall potential for the work. Then I put a canvas in front of me, arrange my paints and Mod Podge and various bits and pieces I've collected for visual use and I freeze. Like I said, I want it to be brilliant off the bat. And the gremlin goes: your ideas? They've been done a million times before and are booo-ring. You'll never stand out. Anyhow, isn't this all supposed to be about the Act of Creation, with rays of sun pouring out of the sky, without a care as to what other people think, without a single worry about "success" and "recognition," you not-true-artist-material, you.  

Luckily sometimes, blessedly, a little hopeful voice clears its throat and talks back. It says something like: you never know. Weren't you just watching a spot about Art Basel on "60 Minutes" and some dealer was waxing on about some sculpture that was made out of extension cords and lightbulbs hanging on a metal rack as if it was the next kingdom come? I think the word "peripatetic" was bandied about. Now I'm sure there's a pile of meaning behind the piece--perhaps some artspeak artist statement that mentions "inertia" and "melancholy"-- but...still. If that extension cord lady can sell a pile of ugly for $33,000 then there's hope for me. I understand that other, more interesting work probably led to her success and the resulting admiration for her hanging lightbulbs--but, again I say, still...

I don't know, I don't mean to sound bitter, or come across as one of those people who misses the point of challenging work by saying my kid could do that. I've been to art school, I understand complexity and layers of meaning. Maybe the first extension cord artist was brilliant. After a google search I'll admit some of the above artist's other work is certainly more interesting, though still not my favorite. Bottom line is, I've simply always appreciated art that is as much about visuals as ideas. Show me something that makes me feel something already--it doesn't necessarily have to be pretty or "well-crafted," just make it more compelling than a haphazard arrangement of found objects. I'm continually amazed at how it seems like every Whitney Biennial has to have the requisite plywood piece. How do curators choose one hunk of plywood over another anyway? How can there possibly still be anything to say with a pile of boards? I don't care how peripatetically nomadically Lacanian it is. 

There, I said it. 

Now it's time to face that blank canvas and the unedited images from my last shoot. Feel the fear and do it anyway (and don't get sidetracked by email and Pinterest.) As an aside, I just ordered Lynda Barry's two inspirational books What It Is and Picture This: The Near-sighted Monkey Book, maybe they'll help kick my mean voice to the curb...


Mike Sakasegawa said…
It's kind of comforting to know that other artists go through this same sort of self-torture. From where I'm standing, just at the beginnings of figuring out my technique, to say nothing of making art that anybody else might find meaningful, you seem like a success story already. I wonder if that feeling ever goes away.
Hi Mike, thanks for your comment--self torture is a good way to put it! I appreciate you thinking I'm a success story already. I too wonder if that unsure feeling ever goes away, but I suspect that the mind of an artist is so drawn towards mulling (obsessing?) over things that it's partly just innate. I think getting into the habit of consistently working, and of course being more focused on process than outcome, makes the feeling if not go away then at least dissipate. Which is why I so much want to get into that habit, instead of becoming stuck in "being stuck" if that makes sense. Good luck with your own work and thanks again!
Bree said…
Sorry about your head and condolences on your grandmother passing. It set me aback when I saw Carlisle because my grandmother lived in Carlisle, Ontario and even thought I knew it was Iowa from the title and pic, my mind tried to tell me you might be talking about Ontario. Made me think of some beautiful scenes from their cottage on Lake Ontario. Anyway, regarding this post, I can't imagine how it is for you to face a blank canvas and have to go at it that way since I've never painted; it kinda scares me when I even conjure that image up in my mind, and I imaging walking around a lot, chewing on the end of the paintbrush... For me, I wrote a piece on this once, and in the final analysis I said it does leave me feeling honored or annointed somehow in a great way when I see what I've made like photographs or writing, or listen to it music wise. That's one experience though, then there's all the other times when I go back over things and they seem all wrong and empty etc etc... The final thing for me is that after that dance with lady art, I end up on the floor - as I said in the piece I wrote - prone, naked and alone. After a while you even get used to that, because well you have to if you want to go on. I've been around a lot of successful musicians working in the business and one thing I remember is a lot of them, not all, have this distance thing that happens, they get a bit jaded or something and I've watched people closely all my life and I can say that they are missing a lot of what is around them. Maybe it's because it all looks the same, and maybe I'm fooling myself by thinking it isn't but I still get attracted to everything and everybody immediately and I want to see and see and know and know. I wouldn't want to get to that other place for whatever that's worth.

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