Saturday, October 11, 2008

Restless Art-Making Syndrome

After a creatively successful night in the studio in Chicago, digitizing all the HD video I shot out West (over 8 hours of new footage), and my partners saying that they thought that all of it was good and useful, this morning I was feeling restless, needing to make art. I often get the urge, and if I have no pressing survival-level need that must be dealt with immediately, I usually give in to the urge. The result is that I have several large bodies of work, many of them quite distinct in style and subject matter; in fact, I'm far more prolific than I know what to do with.

Every so often I get the urge to make logos, or an identity system for a business that doesn't exist, just for fun, to keep my hand in, just to fulfill the Urge To Design. Usually these little tidbits develop spontaneously, after some period of play, when the mind latches onto one idea over all others, and pursues it until it has run its course. What I am left with, often enough, is a fun little portfolio piece that demonstrates both the creative and professional aspects of the business of graphic design and illustration.

When I start an open-ended art-piece, I start by playing around. Play is essential to creativity. You can't get anywhere new without it. If you don't let play and indeterminacy into your creative process, you'll never discover anything new.

When I am restless and want to fool around with imagery, I might explore tools I haven't used before—new filters, new techniques, new looks—and I might pull out images that I was working on earlier, but set aside, feeling they were not done but not knowing what else to do with them. Sometimes you come back to an abandoned work much later on. Sometimes you can finish it, then, sometimes you trash it. It's usually worthwhile saving all your sketchbooks and notebooks filled with unfinished writings, because on one of those restless mornings when you want to play artistically, you can pull one out and see what you find. Sometimes you realize the piece was done all along, you just didn't know it then; sometimes you see that one element that had been missing before, that you hadn't been able to think of at that time, and once applied, now, the piece finishes itself quickly.

When I am restless and setting out to play, I am very careful to leave my habits and preconceptions at the door. I often myself in that slightly anxiety-provoking territory of not know what I'm doing or where I'm going. This can be a lesson in trusting the process.

I have been going through some older volumes of the journal I have kept since over 25 years running. (I don't keep a daily diary, I keep no log of daily events that are largely inconsequential and that even I could care less about. I do write in the journal when I have something I want to explore; and if there's a significant event to record and think about; and many of my poems start their lives in these journals.) I've been going through old journals as part of my ongoing project to sort through and organize my belongings from when I moved to the new house, and also from my late parents' house. In some old journals, I've found half-finished poems that I can now finish. Sketches that now seem completed enough to present. A few drawings worth playing with. A few topics for essays as yet to be written. And notes for much larger, ongoing projects, or bodies of work. It's a task to compile all this, although I hope someday to be able to do so.

This morning, sitting on the couch in Chicago, I started playing around with a photo, until it turned into a new and pretty much finished piece.


Galaxy Compass

Some of that is the photo, heavily edited and altered. And some of it I drew in Photoshop, as a new element.

This piece fits into one style, or body of work, that I've made many pieces in over the years. Photoshop allows me the freedom to play. This body of work is somewhat surrealist in content, with a lot of juxtapositions. But it's also simply illustrations of ideas and dreams.


Two Guitars

For example, my two acoustic guitars on the back steps of my parents' old house, leading up to the deck from teh basement back door. The photo was documentation. But this piece has has been heavily processed to get to this point, and has become an illustration about music and inspiration. It makes me think of the fires of creativity, and how one's view of the world can be radically changed, even made visionary, simply by engaging with all one's being with creative work. Creativity can be genuinely transforming, if you let it have free rein and don't try to box it into some received-wisdom category or theoretical framework, suitable or not. More than once, pieces in this body of work that I've made for my exploratory pleasure have ended up being bought as illustrations, when an art director saw them and just had to have them for whatever project they needed an illustration for.


Two Friends, Chicago, 2004

A double portrait of two friends, made by superimposing two sequential photos. It was a good moment, full of laughter, in which everyone was relaxed and open. Even if such moments don't last, or such friendships, the moment endures in memory, and in memories made endurable by making them into art. Never any regrets.

This body of work, one of many distinct bodies of visual work that I have pursued until a series develops, all without intention, is outside the usual boxes or categories. It's a bit surreal, but it's not Surrealist. It looks at the world as energy, from a slight angle, and interprets the visual world emotionally and psychologically. This series of visual art is more psychological than some other series. It illustrates moments of awareness, when all of a sudden we see the world from a slightly sideways angle, without feeling any need to shoehorn what we see into the usual tight, explainable, conventional categorical boxes.

It's all about play, and where play leads: to discovery.

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