Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Shrine of Art: How We Squash Our Creative Spark

When I first began my art career, before I ever entered school, I had learned about the Shrine of Art. I had learned to think in terms like Great Art, and folk art, and crafts. And I had my biases about each. Great Art adorned churches and palaces, it inspired awe and was beyond my reach. Folk art was within reach, surrounded me, and made life more pleasant, but wasn't awe inspiring. Crafts were what we did in preschool, heck the macaroni  we glued to the paper was called "Kraft". The Shrine of Art said I had to struggle to make art, that it had to be nearly miraculous in the creation of art. And from a young age, I (of course) rebelled against this idea. Or I thought I rebelled. I didn't need to follow instructions, I needed to follow my muse. That was merely embracing the idea of the Shrine of Art more firmly.

My art teachers said I had to follow steps to make art, but I always felt that following steps got in the way of the Creative Spark. I would have a great idea form as they described an assignment, "You will draw a cow skull......" and I was done listening, off looking for a pencil while they droned on and on about doing a series of sketches, then a series of exercises shading the skull with different light sources, then draw the skull upside down........ All I could see was how doing a drawing over and over and over was going to slow me down getting to the drawing I wanted to do, maybe even make me forget the original drawing. So often I would do my drawing, my way and be rudely surprised by the grade. What do you mean I failed the assignment just because I didn't do it your way? Can't you tell Great Art when you see it?

As I've done more in my life, I let go of the idea of the Shrine of Art. I've learned the value in doing a series of sketches before I pull out the big paper. I'm too busy to waste my time doing a wonderful drawing to then stand back and say, "I wish I had positioned it differently on the page before I started." I've learned the value of having a plan. I've even learned that sometimes art has to step back and make room for the mundane. And if I have a series of sketches on an idea, I might just remember the creative spark better when I can get back to it after cooking supper, cleaning house, doing the bills...... the Shrine of Art doesn't leave any room for living a normal life.

I've also learned to keep a portfolio. In school I hated being required to keep a portfolio. I was never satisfied with my own work, and a portfolio reminded me of my failures. I felt like on each work, I had failed to achieve the cool idea I had been inspired by, that my poor muddy attempts had not reached the glory of the vision brought to me by the creative spark. I threw away work, gave it away, or occasionally sold it for a song if someone was so kind as to insist on paying me for a piece. The Shrine said my past work was an indictment of failure. It wasn't as good  as So-and-So's, it wasn't as colorful as His, it wasn't as graceful as Hers, it wasn't as original as Theirs..... Well, you get the drift. And if you are an artist, you might have your own little goblin telling you the same things. The goblin comes from the Shrine of Art, even if you don't know it by that name.

It was digital photography that really helped me get past that mentality. Film photography was Art, and man did it ever have steps to follow, especially in the darkroom. But digital photography was Fun. The film was free, right? And if I didn't get the photo I was looking for, press the button six more times, I might find it yet. Digital photography gave me the gratification of making the image, but it made the sketching process fun, not drudgery. Looking at my pictures on the computer, I could see what had worked, what almost worked and what should be deleted. And I could see where sometimes, I had needed planning if I had wanted the magnificent photo I was looking for. Did I need more light? Planning could have fixed that. Did I need a tripod? Planning could have fixed that. Planning wasn't getting in the way of creativity, it could have, well, enhanced the creativity.

So as I've learned more about art, and learned to let go of the Shrine of Art. I've come to see that my teachers were right. Planning for art allows for better outcomes. But what I was try to rebel against and embracing more and more firmly in my struggles, is this: The Shrine of Art is serious stuff. It is thoughtful, and insightful, it is a stuffed shirt, and it sucks all the fun out of Art, leaving only the struggle. The art I do is fun, I am not driven to do it, I want to do it, I feel good doing it. And I've learned that planning doesn't destroy the ideas.

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