The Laws of Nature

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Developing a Creative Practice

Diebenkorn in his studio.

We've almost completed Chapter 1 of Wendy Richmond's book Art Without Compromise. Stan, you're probably way ahead of us! Before discussing this section of the book, I'd like to digress a little to discuss something that relates to yesterday's post.

I spent two agonizing hours last evening "ghost writing" an installation proposal for a sculptor who wishes to exhibit in a public space. I use the word "agonizing" because the scribbled description that this veteran artist sent me in lieu of a concept definition was so amorphous that I couldn't find the boundaries. So, I spent most of my time looking at images of the sculptures (which I had seen in person last year) and trying to figure out what the heck the titles meant. After two hours, I conjured up what I think the concept is or should be. I mention this in support of Richmond's suggestion that we should know how to answer the question "My work is about..." In theory, no one else can answer it for you. In practice, however, some artists need to hire a "ghost writer" like me because they can't put into words that which they created through intuition.

Back to the next section of Richmond's book, entitled "Developing a Creative Practice." This section is very much like some of the advice given in Ian Roberts' book Creative Authenticity, which we discussed last December. The point that Richmond makes here is about self-imposing discipline in art-making. This suits me since I thrive on established routines. Here are some suggestions for providing a structure for your creative output:

1. Working side by side - this means working alongside others who are engaging in the same process. You don't have to share the same physical space, but there needs to be a vehicle for mutual support. I think that blogging is a great way to do this, since I cannot paint with other people in the same room (keeps me from concentrating).

2. Required studio time and place - commit to a schedule and show up to work. Personally, this is the only way I can be productive and stay happy about it.

3. Critiques and feedback - Richmond is an art instructor and encourages her students to meet in triads for mini critiques. This is a great idea. I'm part of a group of 12 that regularly critiques the works of its members, which is especially helpful to me, and I value the opinions of my blog readers as well. Of course, it's important to know how to filter through the suggestions and retain the useful ones. Blogging can be used for critique, but may also hinder our efforts through too much false praise.

4. Insights from a daily practice - here, the author advises us to keep a daily journal to record thoughts and processes. Some of you are good at this, I'm not. In fact, if I did create one I'd probably never read it later. Am I missing something? Probably.

5. Finding a non-precious routine - solo artists, like me, are responsible for both the initial idea and the outcome. As Richmond points out, this can lead to stress that hinders creativity because it makes us feel that everything we do in the studio must be important. The remedy is to establish some "non-threating" routines for engaging in the work as a process rather than a performance. Hmmm... I need to work on that one!

6. Committing to creativity - the bottom line is our individual commitment to creating art. It's a responsibility that we cannot delegate to others if we want to succeed.

Next post ... the end of Chapter 1.

Your thoughts?


Stan Kurth said...

No I'm not way ahead. There is too much for me to comment on this segment so I'm going with point 6: The Bottom Line!

I really like the choices you have made for imagery at the top of each post. How do you pick them? Again, last Saturday when I was at the Phoenix Art Museum I spent some time looking at a Richard Diebenkorn they have in their permanent collection. Some of his imagery will be among my small black and whites (when I find time for this daunting task). But so far each of the artists you have at the top of each post has in one way or another influenced me, maybe in just small ways. Back in the day (70's) when I was reading Andre Breton's Surrealist Manifesto, I discovered Frida Kahlo. I just had to find out more about her.

Sorry for the digression.

-Don said...

Wow, Wendy's first chapter is covering a lot of ground! I think I can safely say I am following most of her suggestions regarding structure. As much fun as this is, I remind myself daily that it's a full-time job that must be attended to. I'm thankful for our blogisphere, because without it I would have trouble with items 1 and 3 on the list.

I hope you're charging the sculptor by the hour. I must admit my admiration for your tenacity. I can barely figure out my own, "My work is about...". I could not imagine trying to do it for someone else.

Speaking of you being a "ghost writer", have you ever read Neil Peart's "Ghost Rider"? (they have nothing to do with each other - they just sound alike.) I like to call it a modern day book of Job. Google it sometime in all your spare time... =)


Myrna Wacknov said...

Hi Kathy,
Much to digest in today's post. I would like to comment on the critique concept. I belong to a group that meets once a week. I gain insight into what others see in my work and other works that are brought in. Very helpful to teach me more about how to see and evaluate. I am always interested in what others see in my work because I often lose perspective after looking at it for so long. It adds valuable information to my decision making process. On the other hand, I am not overly influenced by other's opinions when they go against my own. An interesting balance but I have always trusted myself to know what is right for me.

Unknown said...

Hi Stan - I'm glad you like the images I post because these are the iconic figures that influenced my work as well. Studying art in the "Sixties" was an interesting time and all my instructors would violently disapprove of my realistic paintings. Abstract expression was THE ONLY way to paint in their opinions. Not that I don't love it - I DO - but my own creative juices run in a different direction. Frida Kahlo is one of my favorites because of her brave individualistic approach and captivating concepts. Her technical skills aren't that great, but her ideas are brilliant (INMO).

Hi Don - I've discerned from your blog that you work in a very structured and dedicated way. The blogosphere is a great place to show our work and get input. It's always interesting to read the reactions even though it appears that most of the people who read my blog don't comment. Maybe that's a statement in itself! In answer to your question, no - I've never read "Ghost Rider." Sounds interesting, though!

Hi Myrna - it's wonderful that you belong to such a group! And, you raise an important point about sticking with what makes sense to you despite the opinions of others. Thanks for mentioning that!

M said...

As I read down through the list I was assessing my practice at the same time. Here are the results:

. Working side by side ... Most of this is virtual for me either through books or blogging. Sometimes I get together with a friend to experiment with encaustic.

2. Required studio time and place - commit to a schedule and show up to work. --- I've been trying to be more consistent and it's helping- I have a long way to go.

3. Critiques and feedback - It is important to me and I have no trouble sifting through the comments from others . It helps with my myopic view that develops with close consideration. I agree that sometimes blogging critiques can be too kind (not critical enough)

4. Insights from a daily practice - I think this would be very helpful to me to do it consistently.

5. Finding a non-precious routine - I take breaks from my serious work to experiment. It is an important part of my practice and it allows me to grow.

6. Committing to creativity - I am.
I'm really liking this book Kathy, probably because it supports so much of what I do already and the other suggestions seem sensible extensions.

hw (hallie) farber said...

1. I did that when I was a resident artist--being with other artists is a definite plus.
2. I have an allergy to schedules.
3. No--most artists in my area paint barns and pretty calendar pictures.
4. I have piles of notes and lists--someplace.
5. Since my workshop/studio is a separate building, I feel I should be serious when I'm using the heat or a/c--not good, but I hate wasting energy. I play there during Spring and Fall.
6. Yes.

I hope that sculptor realizes how fortunate he is to have you as a "ghost writer."

Unknown said...

Hi Margaret - yes, I can see the connection between Richmond's approach and yours. Very disciplined and organized!

Hi Hallie - your answers to the six points reflect the "free spirit" that I've sensed in you. I think it also illustrates how differently all of us approach art. There is no one way, and the variety is delightful!

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Unknown said...

Hi Pam - it seems like blogging is your journal. I hadn't thought about it that way before, but it makes sense now.

tess stieben said...

The non precious routine is something that I have happened upon recently. I started doing roughs in a sketchbook when in too much pain to work in the studio as I go stir crazy when not able to create. This process has begun to allow me to loosen up my thought pattern regarding painting technique and ideas on how I can integrating the varied media I work with. I only wish my body would allow me to keep a painting schedule, but as that is not possible I keep on as I am able, the sketchbook is great way for jotting down some of my ideas as my mind continually flows with creative energy.

Unknown said...

Hi Teresa - I'm very sorry to hear of your physical paint, but heartened to know that you're using your creativity to sketch. Frida Kahlo was wonderfully creative during her very serious physical trials and produced some masterpieces. Just goes to show how much we can do in the face of adversity. Get well soon!