The Laws of Nature

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Creative Process Loop, continued

Section 2 of Chapter 1 in Wendy Richmond's book Art Without Compromise is named "The Creative Process Loop." The central purpose for this section is to provide the reader with a method for supporting the creative process. Before defining the "loop," the author describes the feelings and reactions that are common to artists when they struggle to find ideas for their work.

The author describes three common reactions:

  • suppression of the initial spark of an idea by our doubts, distractions, fear of seeming derivative, overwhelming techinical complexity, lack of time, lack of discipline, and so on. In other words, destroying the beginning of an idea rather than fully developing it.

  • impatience with the process of developing an idea because of the urge to find immediate solutions.

  • fear that blocks creativity. Richmond cites two opposing fears: 1) the fear of the unknown where the artist doesn't have a clear idea of what the final product will be and doesn't want to waste valuable time struggling to find it, and 2) the fear an artist feels about comitting too quickly to an intial and idea and investing so much time and energy in it so that it becomes too precious to be abandoned.
The obvious question is posed: Is there a way to sustain one's creative confidence and energy throughout the entire process .... keeping a balance between the unpredictable state of not knowing, and of tangible, visible progress?
That's a BIG question, and here's Richmond's solution:

The Creative Process Loop

Stage 1: Observe -and record your observations in some way that's meaningful to you.

Stage 2: Reflect - over what you've recorded and spend time finding what resonates with you.

Stage 3: Articulate - create a physical piece that can be presented to others.

The "loop" begins after the third stage, when you present the tangible piece and observe the reaction, reflect on the feedback you receive, and create another iteration.

Richmond concludes this section by noting that the most important part of repeating this process is to maintain the balance between not knowing and having the "answer." She feels that it's critically important to move quickly through these stages in order to form rapid prototyping that removes the "preciousness of the investment." Each cycle moves you closer to your goal.

I'm writing this post as I'm reading the text for the very first time, and am amazed to find that Richmond's "loop" is similar to the one I teach in my workshops, but she leaves out a great deal that's important to making it work. I won't elaborate here because I want to encourage students to enroll in my course (forgive me for this shameless self-promotion!). However, I can verify from personal experience that this process works.

I'd like to back up a little and reflect upon what it means to invest so much time and material on an idea that it becomes too precious to abandon. Making progress requires us to take off the blinders, face the fact that something just isn't working, and walk away. It's also important to realize that we didn't waste our time and materials because the very act of creating is instructive even if the final product is unsuccessful.

The second important point is about spending time developing an idea. Most series that I've painted started with an idea that I developed over years! I've learned to be patient with this stage of my process and trust that a good idea will emerge. And this really is the heart of the matter: trusting in oneself to find good solutions - eventually. Patience is its own reward.

Your thoughts?


M said...

There's certainly lots of points to take up in this discussion. I felt uplifted even before I began to read. It was the picture of the lovely Georgia, my first inspiration as an artist.

Impatience is something I have to control in my practice. It takes time to reach a point where you are ready to commit to new work- the getting it all figured out. I am very impatient and have to work at slowing down my head. My impatience has kept me from pursuing certain themes because I didn't give the ideas time to incubate.

Even with the techniques and concepts that get left by the wayside, I never feel I've wasted time pursuing them. All the time one spends involved in the stages of art making, even without a credible product, is learning. Learning is never wasted. New links are created that will connect to other experiences. That is how we grow.

I will stop here and see what others have to say. I enjoyed this post Kathy. I'm always interested in the "head" aspects of art-ones practice.

Mark Sheeky said...

I find that if you don't push you don't get an idea, but if you push too hard you don't get an idea either. The trick for me is faith, that the first, that ANY, idea is good enough to be worth expanding and investigating.

Unknown said...

Hi Margaret - I think that O'Keeffe and her work serve as the perfect illustration for patience with idea development and technique. She's inspirational to me, as well. I love to mull over ideas for years and then try to figure out how to express them. I look forward to more of your comments.

Hi Mark - well stated!! I agree 100%. You're a good example of this since you're so in touch with your subconscious and expressive in many forms of media. It just flows out of you, but you also work hard to develop your ideas.

Unknown said...

I am guilty of all those road blocks. I assume they are common "rookie" mistakes. I am fortunate to be a follower of your informative blog to learn this earlier than if I had come to realize it myself.

That plug was not shameless but clever. I would love to attend one of your workshops. I just have to sell a lot more paintings first!

I started to and now I'll go back to keeping a large (14x12) journal. I put images from magazines that interest me, quick sketches of ideas or thoughts that I can go back and ruminate on later.

Stan Kurth said...

Wow! Something I always thought was cool: I was born the same day as Georgia O'Keefe 62 years later! Saw some of her work yesterday at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Again, as far as this creative loop goes I'm right there in it with some small variations I'm sure. I've got to get this book. Did I already mention that?

Unknown said...

Sheila - your new work is inspired and the more we learn about "process" by authors like Richmond, the easier it is to recognize what's holding us back and move forward. Keep painting :)

Hi Stan - What a wonderful coincidence! I WISH that I had something in common with O'Keeffe. If you ever have time, do relate to us how the museum visit impacted you. It's always interesting to learn how artists are informed by the works of others. Yes, buy the book! It's great (so far).

And, to my readers: treat yourself and visit Stan's newly established blog. And, follow his links to see more of his work. I'm in awe!

-Don said...

Another great post, Kathy. I have been thru this entire gamut at one time or another. It feels like Wendy has been looking over my shoulder. (Being so intimate with my thinking processes takes Wendy out of the formal, Ms. Richmond, stage.)

The suppression, impatience and fear all try to visit daily, but I try not to open the door to them.

As you've seen in my own blog posts there have been times when the impatience and fear have assailed me and I've had to force my way past those obstacles. Luckily, having been doing this a while I know that they are coming and I do not allow them to overwhelm me. What I find , though, is that by pushing past those obstacles and trudging forward I ALWAYS feel a huge sense of accomplishment and joy upon arriving at my final destination.

There have been paintings that I decided were not going to ever be "right", but I went ahead and found a sufficient finishing point. In my mask series I count about 5 that I feel that way about. Interestingly enough, 2 of those have been other people's favorites and one of those has been purchased - with others disappointed that it was no longer available. So, obviously, I don't have a clue...

In my creative process I try to have about 10 things going at once. That is, I have 10 ideas started. Some never see the light of day. Some take weeks, months or years to come to fruition. And, some happen so fast my head spins. But, as long as I have ideas percolating, I know that I will have the next canvas started as soon as the one I'm working on is complete. I find that if I have all these ideas started, while I'm painting and entirely working from the right side of my brain answers will suddenly come. But, those seeds had to be planted in my mind for that to work out. Basically, I left brain some possible ideas and then I right brain some possible solutions.

Oops, I got wordy again...


Carolyn Abrams said...

I really like that the author uses the term "loop" in describing the process. Sometimes i feel i need to go around that loop a few times in order to actually get the work i want. But none of the time is wasted, it's all been a learning experience that i can use in another piece at another time.

hw (hallie) farber said...

I thought I left a comment earlier (and ironically) about being "out of the loop." I'm thinking about all the points and how they relate to the way I work. I'm not sure I ever get past Stage 3.

Unknown said...

Hi Don - you are a wonderful example of what "Wendy" writes about! I've followed your work and writings for several years now and can attest to the fact that you are prolific in both the amount of work you produce and the number of ideas you articulate. I think that artists' "stories" are very instructive, so feel free to write at length.

Hi Carolyn - it seems that we never stop going around the loop, and the more we cycle the better the chance for our work to improve. Keep going!

Hi Hallie - although you don't work in a series, I think that strong connections exist between them. There are recurring themes and styles that make your work recognizable. That's a major part of creating work that's both unique and meaningful!

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Celeste Bergin said...

Well, you are selling me on this book. I may have to get a copy for myself.
One thing I have noticed more and more is that I am becoming more detached from my work..and thereby more objective. Oh, I still dislike if someone tells me (especially unsolicited) how to "fix" something. For whatever reason..that can really irk me. But, I think the ability to stand away and apart from the work (USUALLY) is a very good thing that happens more and more with volume.

Unknown said...

Hi Pam - stick with it!! I know you'll succceed :-)

Hi Celeste - interesting! I didn't know this about you. I truly enjoy your work.