by Bayles & Orland
Image to right: The Canon
Picking up where I left off in Chapter 5, "Finding Your Work," the authors turn their focus to our body of work. They note that our creative path is hardly smooth and continuous. We encounter bumps and even deep ravines that impede our progress. The authors call this the "Artist's Funk," which is characterized by feelings that (1) you've entirely run out of new ideas forever, (2) you've been following a worthless deadend path the whole time, or (3) (fortunately) neither. We all suffer disappointments from work that just doesn't turn out the way we imagined it should, but these "failures" are still part of the equation that help us produce the next work that "succeeds." Knowledge and experience aren't wasted.
Bayles and Orland suggest that when our work begins to suffer, it may be because we departed from a successful method or process to pursue another way of artmaking. Perhaps the way to regain that success is to go back to the old methods. On the other hand, the authors also recognize that this could lead to a bigger problem - conceptual inertia.
There's more. The tools we use to make art have evolved throughout history and, while they facilitate certain forms of expression, the also act as limiting agents. When particular tools and materials disappear, artistic possibilities are lost as well. And likewise when new tools appear new artistic possibilities arise.
So, we face a dilemma (actually, two dilemmas in my opinion). First, when should we stick with the tools and materials that we already know and when should we go out on a limb an experiment with something new? Second (in my opinion) there are so many tools presently available to artists that how can we possibly decide which to select?
But, there's a larger challenge we artists face. Most of the myriad of steps that go into making a piece (or a year's worth of pieces) go on below the level of conscious thought, engaging unarticulated beliefs and assumptions about what artmaking is. Yikes! It's not just what and how we make art, but why. Some of this is habit and becomes intuitive, and the rest of it is hard-learned lessons that remain at the conscious level.
It's probably not useful to spend lots of time considering all the whats, hows, and whys when we should concentrate on producing the art and gaining expertise (the when). But, if you're anything like me, you need to be somewhat deliberate in your choices in order to progress and rise to new challenges. Over time, the life of a productive artist becomes filled with useful conventions and practical methods, so that a string of finished pieces continues to appear at the surface. And in truly happy moments those artistic gestures move beyond simple procedure, and acquire an inherent aesthetic all their own. They are canons.
Next time, we'll jump into Section II of this wonderful book. And, on Wednesday I have a very special treat for you before I go on holiday for a week.
What are your thoughts?