The Laws of Nature

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Wagon Train and Scout

Exhausted by the holidays and also relieved to be back in the studio, it's time to return to Ian Roberts' book Creative Authenticity: 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision. Principle 10, Wagon Train and Scout, is an interesting discussion about how to move forward toward more innovative solutions for our art. Historically, cumbersome wagon trains traveled westward over difficult terrain in America by working in tandom with swiftly moving scouts on horseback who would locate the best travel route. Roberts employs this example as a metaphor for how we artists incrementally transform our work as we seek new pathways that lead us away from the conventional toward the innovative.

The underlying assumption in this chapter is that throughout our careers, we artists should seek to improve our work, to find authenticity, through innovation. I agree with this, although I realize that some do not. Roberts also suggests that as we encounter obstacles along our journey and successfully find ways to overcome them, confidence builds. Confidence is important because it emboldens us to take the necessary risks that lead to innovation.

Our path toward innovation is sometimes clear, but mostly obscured as we venture forth. Roberts likens this idea to a wagon train moving out of a forest and into a clearing where the view of a vast plain ahead makes the path obvious. And, after the plain is traversed, the wagon train enters another forest where the path is unclear. This is my experience as well. There are "moments" of clarity", but most of the time I'm bouncing off closely spaced trees trying to find my way out of the forest. This is why a fleet-footed scout becomes necessary. The scout finds the path from small clues that for us, amount to intuition (see earlier blog about intuition). I'll add that if our intuition is grounded in a solid foundation of knowledge and experience, we will probably select the correct path.

Roberts concludes this chapter with his thoughts about discovering individuality, or authenticity, by trusting our intuition (our scout). Conventional wisdom can block the path of our "scout." The author urges us to spend quiet time examining works of art in order to discover 1) what engages you and 2) technical solutions that you can apply to your own work. Knowing what you're passionate about and how to express it with technical mastery is a very important part of making your work authentic, according to Roberts.

Roberts concludes that the scout's job is two-fold: to lead us away from lumbering conventions down a new path toward innovation, and to lead us to research that helps us gain technical mastery in our work. This makes sense to me.

Your opinions??


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Casey Klahn said...

Looks like I've circled the wagons, here, Kathy!

Given that I am enjoying the Cavalry Trilogy John Ford/Wayne right now, I am visualizing what you are saying very well!

Hey, I will share this. I am reading "How to Think Like da Vinci," which si a self help book about how to think like a genius.

I hate self help books, but this one had a twist, and I am giving it due consideration. One good thing to help me get over my block in the studio, has been to follow the advcie in the book and journal. I went to the studio, and instead of grabbing pastels, I wrote out 100 observations @ my recent works. next, I will try 100 ideas for the next works. It is helping.

I have to say the Alexander burning his boats idea is my other great help when I go to the studio - thanks to reading here.

Mark Sheeky said...

I agree with this post. Perhaps the wagon train gets somewhere because it knows the ultimate destination. Without a target it's hard to make progress.

On the other hand, is it possible to be totally "conventional"? When you try to paint the most conventional picture, would it necessarily lack substance? Anything that is different has changed, evolved, and that has to be a type of innovation.

M said...

My work is evolving in a positive way as I learn different techniques and I become more tuned in to what content I want to use in my art making. My approach is to be open to experimentation and not to get too caught up in creating a credible "product". When I give myself license to explore, all sorts of new ideas occur. Some are worthwhile in themselves and others are dropped or adapted. I know my work today is the result of experimentation and just letting things happen. I have no difficulty trusting my intuition and I hope it will lead me to new discoveries this year.

-Don said...

Scouting is fun!


hw (hallie) farber said...

I think I lack conventional wisdom, enjoy obstacles and try every path for a while; in fact, I don't think I've ever experienced "artist's block".

After looking at Pamo and Peggy's cartoons, I'm tempted to try that!

Age has not led me to maturity or sophistication; I have consciously tried to be less serious. (Maybe I spent too much time in the woods when I was a child.)

Anonymous said...

Hallie- cartooning is fun, expressive, addictive. I highly recommend it!

Unknown said...

Hi Pam - I'm interested in reading the comments of others, as well ... here goes:

Hi Casey - this is a very interesting approach! I can see where it would give you insight into your work and a way to find new pathways. Why 100? I'm just curious about the assignment of a specific number of observations.
Thanks for sharing this!

Hi Mark - yes, I suppose that knowing the final destination is a benefit. The interesting thing about the wagon trains is that they didn't often know much about their final destination, and more frequently, they didn't know what lay between the start and the final destination. So, many never made it because they were either ill-prepared, encountered too much adversity, or liked the intermediate places and just settled there. I guess there's a lesson in there for artists. You ask if it's possible to be totally conventional. I'd say "yes" since imitation lacks any sort of innovation and there are some who only imitate. And, you ask if one tried to paint a conventional picture would it lack substance. I think it depends upon the motivation. If a conventional technique is used the idea could still be unique and unconventional. If the painter has no concept, then the painting could be meaningless even if it's technically skillful. Thanks for your insights! You think like a surrealist :)

Hi Margaret - you have a wonderful process that works for you. Thanks for sharing this!

Hi Don - yes, it is!

Hi Hallie - wonderful! I often wish that I could recapture my child's mind, but it's mostly gone. You've done a remarkable job tapping into your inner child but also using that quality in a very mature way. Nice balance!

Kay said...

Quick note, re inner child. use the "other hand" for sketching, and the inner child emerges much more freely.

I hope to get back to the thread of this conversation later... but in brief I am a great believer in gaining technical mastery whatever the medium or genre, so that this is not an issue distracting you as you work, and then you can work with drive, spontaneity, passion (and therefore authenticity...)

more later, hopefully! Painting calls...

Unknown said...

Hi Kay - good tip! Thanks so much.