Why do I create art? There are probably as many answers to this question as there are artists. It has been bothering me for some time and perhaps my answer is to do with the way it makes me feel.
Few artists are able to make a living solely from their work. If many of the great past masters were recognised only after their death and survived only through sponsorship/other work, the rest of us must either dream of a life changing lucky break or learn to accept that we make art to satisfy an inner drive and somehow it will reach who it is intended to speak to in the world. I don’t think this nieave. So much happens in creativity inspite of planning and development often comes out of ‘mistakes’. I am satisfied to have faith and and patience to wait.Day after day desire consumes me to capture a look, the colour of a sunset or the light as it hits the water. This is now my life, it brings meaning to who I am and how I see the world and it gives me a voice to show it to others.
For many years I used this as a kind of safety blanket, ” Oh , don’t look at this piece I’m just experimenting!” Perhaps this is a bit negative? Is there more to exploring difference?
I am starting to believe that there is and that without experimentation the growth of our creativity can be severely stunted. Many artists feel that time should be spent regularly playing with mark making and style. Of course the benefits may not be obvious straight away which can trick us into thinking that effort has been wasted. No, like most good things, experiences are stored away in our memory bank until the right time arrives.
A recent example of this for me involves flowers. For some reason I shy away from them. Perhaps subconsciously their delicate beauty seems too difficult to capture. Recently though any unstructured work that I do seems to evolve into semi abstract petals and flowers form of their own accord from nowhere. I have tried to resist this, until today. A new technique I was trying just did not suit anything I painted. Finally letting go and trusting my instinct lead of course to flowers in my new style and I hope some pleasing images.
Usually I find holidays a source of pressure. Is this a paradox? It is possible to build up expectations- ” oh, I’ll have time to write a poem while we are away” or ” plenty of time to start art journaling- I’ll take all the materials I need”
This time I decided just to try being me! Of course I felt a tad guilty about not creating but I had time to relax and take stock of the wonder around me. Surprisingly I have comeback creatively refreshed and full of inspiration and photographic prompts to work from.Yaaay!
Today’s adventure took me and my dog out and about somewhere new. We wandered across the fields with the sun on our faces and the wind rustling the trees. As always the mind awakens out here in nature: toes dipping in the river and face down on the grass photoing insects at peculiar angles. Surely this is food for the creative soul.
Later I sat sipping coffee and doodling in my journal…Then it happened. Someone asked me “Are you an artist?” Normally I mutter something about having a go and the fragile flower of my creative self-confidence once more takes a dive. What is it about social convention that makes it impossible to claim the title? If we can drive it is expected that we call ourselves a driver. Why then do we assume that we must have pictures hanging in national gallery before we can truly participate in art? Today I revelled in the incomparable beauty of nature, breathed it in and really looked in appreciation at the colours, patterns and forms around me. How I commit this to paper is unimportant and really not for others to judge. It is just my interpretation and my style. So, this time when the question was asked I replied ” Yes. Yes I am an Artist!” And my heart lept- how wonderful to take ownership and call myself part of this beautiful creativity.
Today my heart is very much open to the emotions and feelings that surround us. I often wonder if ( as we are now ) in times of change and uncertainty in the world we naturally turn in to ourselves. We look inward and reflect on the one thing that we know will be with us throughout – ourselves. This may seem meloncolic but actually it is quite positive. Good friends, relationships and social stability are all important to maintaining our wellbeing and happiness. However psychology therapy tells us that our core foundation needs to be a strong and resilient self belief.
Many of my creative friends seem to echo my own frequent feelings of self doubt in their work. How often do we say things like ” Oh, that one is rubbish. I’m just no good at this!”. Or we abandon creative projects that we were once so passionate about because we lose our conviction that we are doing the right thing. Deep down we are all vulnerable and the human brain seems to be set for self criticism. It goes against the grain for most of us to be totally convinced that it is alright to be the person that we are inside. We can live and create just what we feel is right, without the need to produce something conventional or what others say we should. Frequently people will not understand quite what we mean or the exhilaration that we feel. Does that matter? I don’t think so. If we create because we are in love with the process or the story our work tells praise is not so important. If our art makes us explorers we will definitely make mistakes from time to time and bad art sometimes but that is fine. When this does happens it is difficult not to listen to the voice telling you that you should just stick to convention- that experimenting and finding your own style is not for you. However Creativity calls us to do something different from the crowd- otherwise we would just be copying. Personally the therapy that I receive from making my own work in my own way is immense.
The strategies Brioni describes are qpequally true for creativity. A dear fellow artist is always telling me. ” Why are you asking me if I think this is right? You are the expert on you and you are the only one who can truly say what is best for you .” With these words ringing in my ears my creativity is revived and I shall pick up my brush once more to be who I am…
Does it ever make your head spin trying to fathom out the beauty of nature? Yes, I will admit to being accused of regressing to childlike eye popping enthusiasm on recent walks in the woods or just round the garden. This may imply that I have taken a Benjamin Button like step back in time. I choose to believe it is more a case of having time, space and freedom to allow myself the luxury of taking off my ‘adult filters’.
Let me illustrate what I mean. My head conversation would go something like this:
“Gosh me! How does a tiny grain of a seed turn into this? And especially in my hands 😀. Woo hoo! Just look at the psychedelic patterns like fish scales or a peacocks eye topped tail feathers- and the feathery textured edges.”
” And look now. How do they turn into these flowers. All my favourite colours. Feather petals and delicate centres. I must paint this. Reminds me of ballerinas. Graceful- speaking to me of movement. The paint must flow in a graceful curve . They are sooooo beautiful.”
Anyway, time to add some science and the chocolatecake.
Anyone familiar with the work of the child psychologist Jean Piaget will be familiar with his theories of childhood development. (What do you mean kids just get bigger?) His theory is now backed by much research and proposed that from birth to approximately two a child develops using basic movement and his senses. Next between two and seven a child learns language skills. The other two stages you will just have to look up… as this is only a tiny bit of science! An artist friend and I were discussing childhood wonder at the world compared to the reserve we all take on in adulthood. We start our lives touching, tasting, smelling, hearing and staring at things therefore the impressions we get are feelings and emotions. By seven we are developing the ability to reason and express our opinions in words.
Could it be that this is one reason why as adults we feel cautious or embarassed about using our emotions to express ourselves? I know that this is over simplistic but think about it? If you see a delicious cake what is your gut instinct deep down? To create a factual database listing weight,height and the viscosity of the icing? Or maybe just reach out and grab it, to smell its rich powerful chocolates aroma and to let it crumble on your tounge releasing flavours that set alarm bells ringing in your tastebuds? You could say this is a biased argument- and it is because I do love eating cake!
However I hope that you see what I am getting at? Like many artists, dancers, musicians and writers I believe that a certain degree of emotion and use of our senses is important during creative work. Not only do I look at the world through the senses and excitement of a child! I often paint and draw like one too- with my fingers.(Shhh!) I do it because it allows me to connect through touch with the paint and my emotions hopefully flow more easily into the work on the canvas. Maybe I am writing high on cake but to me it is fun and adds to my creative wellbeing so I think I can justify carrying on for now!
Funny how often good ideas come to us in the strangest of places! This week while my walk included clambering and slipping over seaweed at a 45 degree angle I realised a profound comparison to my new fledgling creative journey. Ok if you insist on the science, walking increases the flow of oxygen to the brain so it is obvious that I would think more clearly while exercising. However inspite of my ‘ inner scientist’ screaming practical answers from my past I prefer the perhaps more romantic notion that while rambeling we are reconnecting with nature and discovering our instinctive links to the wild. I suspect that both theories are essential ingredients in the mix .
As I stumbled ungracefully along the newly exposed rock pools instead of taking the sensible but dull grass track to the beach, I began to examine the choices that had lead me along this precarious route. That was simple, a life long attraction to guddling about at low tide looking for crabs and starfish first as a child and then with my daughter too. To me it was the only way to go. My dog Angus and I plodded diligently along occasionally looking up to those on the easy route. Invariably I questioned my judgement of bringing us this way and thought of abandoning the adventure. My companion bounced along so I did what I could to follow. Really this was in deed like my new creative path: choosing not to follow convention and so risking justifiable criticism and questions from others and full of self doubt and thoughts of giving up. I can see my goal ahead and if I persist with courage and conviction inch by inch I will reach my goal. The path will take me a different way and bring rewards that may remain unseen by the majority but to me are a reward that makes the little trod path worth taking… Then I had to stop thinking my brain hurt and the guilt ‘gremlin’ * was asking me what on earth I had had for breakfast!
As I struggled to ignore said gremlin a lovely thing happened. I found my reward in a beautiful patch of rock where the layers had been partially eroded making beautiful sweeping curves. Of course these immediately transferred to the virtual canvas in my brain, taking with them the spectacular colours and textures around me.
Reward indeed for the rest of our trip was filled with seeds of ideas to photo and cram into my brain in the hope that they would germinate on my canvas at home. The pleasure and contentment was immense.
Now to see if the idea works….
* you may be familiar with the ‘gremlin ‘ by another name such as self doubt or lack of confidence. He has been the subject of many online creative community discussions and is responsible for the postponment or abandonment of artistic projects and frequently needs support to be banished.Many friends in the meantal health community call him a parrot sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear that I cannot achieve what I wish to. Some give him a name, draw him, humorise him and most importantly acknowledge him for what he is – an untruth. However you do it, banish that gremlin!