Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Anatomy of a Page: Deciding to be Intuitive

Unlike some of the other art students in undergraduate school, I was conscious and deliberate in developing my creative process. I grilled professors and fellow students about where they got ideas, how they developed their ideas into bodies of work, and the materials and techniques they used. I emulated their processes, used the techniques the showed me, and followed their suggestions. I experimented constantly and evaluated the results.

In many ways, this analytical approach both helped and hurt the development of my creative process. It helped me to become conscious of my process and able to articulate the stages I went through in developing work. It enabled me to pick apart a work of art, regardless of who had done it, and talk about its good and bad characteristics.

Still, there was plenty of downside. I became easily caught up in thinking rather than doing. I tried to use my head to solve artistic problems I should simply have worked through. Ultimately, once I solved a problem of theme or composition in my head, I lost the motivation to actually make the piece I had been thinking about.

The most negative effect, though, was that I developed the bad habit of trying to force everything to make sense. I put terrible pressure on myself to explain my ideas properly and exactly in order to make them unassailable in a critique. Every element, whether it be the concept driving a piece or a stylistic choice, was so thoroughly planned that there was no room left for any of the emotion that animates good art.

As a result, much of my work was emotionally flat. While it may have been well designed and rendered, it was often hollow and lifeless. I knew that to make anything good I would have to find a way to banish thinking and reason from the process.

The best antidote to a tyrannical conscious mind (such as my own) is a healthy dose of randomness. After years of experimentation and investigation, I made the rational though ironic choice to build my creative process around intuition and all things non-rational.

I drew inspiration from other student artists, who often taught me without knowing it. One began his paintings without a plan, covering mural-sized surfaces with seemingly random markings and colors that he eventually formed into images. From him I learned how to coax an image out of chaos, like seeing pictures in the clouds. Others worked in materials from nature that they could not control, such as mold and ants. Many worked with recycled materials and built images from the marks already on their etching plates and canvases. From them I learned to make accidents a planned but uncontrolled element in my work.

Watching these other young artists led me to other ways to keep my work loose and fresh. I began collaborating with some of them, forcing myself to respond to what they were doing rather than executing images purely of my own design. I began to work with collage on which I would layer drawing and painting, which freed me from the anxiety of wondering where to begin.

I also began to work very quickly, forcing myself to make visual decisions intuitively and in response to what I saw developing in front of me. To this day I work quickly to avoid thinking about what to do next.

Ultimately, I'm a thinker and I always will be. So my effort to bring other aspects of myself to my work is ongoing. Fortunately, I've been trying to circumvent my conscious mind for so long that working intuitively has become a habit.

Next post, we'll see how I try to put all these thoughts into action.

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