Saturday, November 06, 2010

Entering the Matrix

Consider creativity as a matrix of possibilities.

Visualize, if you can, a multi-dimensional grid, with various loci on the grid being locations of different types of creative action. You can add as many dimensions as you can work with. I do a lot of 3D geometry in my mind; I have a knack for spatial geometry, I've always been able to do it. (It took me longer to absorb the algebraic equations that describe spatial geometry, not to mention nonlinear dynamics, but being able to visualize everything is a big help.)

At the moment, I'm idly watching woodworking shows on public television. Or listening, mostly, as I slice red potatoes chip-thin to fry them up in olive oil and spices. I like them extra crispy, so I get the potatoes going before I throw the Angus beef burgers on the grill. When the potatoes are three-quarters done, you throw the burgers on the already-heated grill. Don't need anything on burgers but a little sea salt, but I like to spice up the potatoes. Not eating a vegetable tonight, mostly because I didn't get to the store earlier. A glass of one of my favorite wines from Paso Robles, CA, J. Lohr Wildflower Monterey Valdiguié, and my evening is complete.

Earlier today, at sunset, I was on the public park docks at the Rock River north of town, making HD video of the sunset, gold past the bare trees, the thin pinking clouds, and a hundred Canadian geese on the river, drifting, calling, sometimes taking off in flights of a dozen, heading west. Other flights come in for a landing. The geese follow the light west, as the sun goes down, till they cannot see, and rest for the night.

The woodworking (or other craft) shows have become something I leave on the TV in idle moments, if I have nothing better to do while cooking and eating, because of my own deepening interest in woodworking. I don't have the shop full of amazing tools that they use on these shows, nor do I have the tools to make some of the custom tools they use; but I'm learning. And I'm getting ideas. I love the look of laminated woods, layers of color and texture. I will work up to some larger projects someday, but I have become interested in making small wooden boxes, as parts of larger art pieces.

Think of a shadow box, which has an image or a small sculpture on its face, perhaps a relief carving or a glued abstraction. Then you open the box, and inside discover another mystery. An image, a smaller puzzle sculpture within, who knows. All of it themed to an idea, or a cluster of ideas. Imagine a wall filled with art, including boxes, photographs, triptychs, and pieces that break the frame of assumptions around both 2D and 3D art.

At some point I'd like to get a woodturning lathe, and turn some bowls from tree logs, using the grain and faults in the wood as features. Natural woods interest me for woodcarving, because of their irregularities and flaws, which bring character to the piece.

I feel myself entering a new phase of creative productivity. As if I wasn't already productive enough. I am gradually recovering my strength and health. (The IV drug therapy treatments are working, although from my perspective it seemed to take a long time to notice real results. But I'm a lot less anemic than I was, and that takes at least a couple of burdensome stressors off the list, now.) I am gradually improving my outlook on life. Even though my body is still tired much of the time, it's not all of the time, they way it had been for over a year now. Not to say there aren't still the occasional setbacks, the days where you have to take the day off and rest, and the times when you still feel like crap. Yet I feel myself more able to do things, even on those days, because my mind is clearer now than it has been in many months.

Some good things have happened, creatively, these past few weeks. I have my new piano, and have been playing regularly. I am starting to compose a new piece. I played the Monster Jam gigs for Hallowe'en in Madison last week, even though I had walking pneumonia at the time, then came home in time to give out treats to the kids. And even though I'm tired out, I'm not so tired out that I'm dead on my feet. Nothing that down and out. So I guess that's another sign of improvement.

I've made a lot of visual art this past month. October has always been a month of unusually high artistic productivity for me. I first noticed this when I was in college. Something about October always makes me extra-productive, extra-alert. There's a quality of light that's unique, a smell of autumn in the cooling air. There's the thinning of the veils between worlds coming up to Samhain. There's the sense of the Yearwheel turning, the old year ending and the new one beginning. And there's often the first tentative snowfall, which doesn't endure for now, but crisply chills the air with prescience of winter.

Creativity is for me a vast underground river of black water, which can rise up to be tasted from many wells. I don't just write words, I make visual art, and I write music. In fact, writing words is not even my principal means of artistic expression. I know I've said this all before; I'm restating it to make the case for another kind of analogy about creativity.

My purpose here is to demonstrate that creativity is not a scare resource. It's infinite. One can always tap in.

I recently read some commentaries on fine art by critics who, it seems to me, don't really understand the creative process. One of these opinions was that anything that isn't recognized as fine art is not art. Another opinion was that artists should be in a vacuum, with no consideration of the rest of the world. Both of these opinions are incredibly wrong-headed, and no working artist would agree with them.

Dealing with the second opinion first, it's not possible to be a human being, making art or not, and be totally isolated from the world, from the need to make a living, from relationship, from contact. HIstory has proven that total isolation is liable to drive one crazy. Of course it's also been proven that too many distractions interfere with getting the work done. So the truth, as usual, lies in the balance.

Now, I might actually agree that fine art is art, and that many things that are called art are not. But creativity is not restricted to the fine arts. Anyone who states that creativity is only in the fine arts knows nothing about creativity. Creativity can be found anywhere apply imagination, intuition, ingenuity, and heart to whatever they're doing. Creativity can be found in cooking, in woodworking, in photography and videography, in winemaking, and almost anywhere else that people apply themselves. In my experience ,creativity is the most available thing in the universe, as abundant as hydrogen. The only thing that blocks you from applying your creative process to whatever you're doing is your own inner idea that you can't. Or some critical idiot telling you that you shouldn't. Both of these voices are just plain wrong.

So consider creativity as a matrix of possibilities. Visualize those possibilities as points in space on a multi-dimensional grid. Some cluster close together; others are farther apart, some quite far off by themselves. Each locus is a way of being creative. Not all of them are fine art. But all of them are true.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

When I was at secondary school for the first two years we all took the same classes; it was only from Third Year on we picked our own subjects, those we would take to O-Level. So, in First Year I had to take metalwork and in Second Year I had to take Woodwork. I was no good at either. I made a sorry-looking poker in Metalwork and the next year a sorry-looking-but-at-least-useable wooden box with a top that slides in; I still have it but I have no idea what happened to the poker. I am no good with my hands. They have let me down time and time again. But that’s fine because I rarely need them to do anything more difficult than slapping some paint on a wall or pulling out weeds. I’m far more comfortable in a 2-dimenional world; even what art I did produce had very little depth. It is, I’m sure, what limits me creatively. I remember being very struck by the scene in the Mutara Nebula towards the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan where Spock points out the flaw in Khan’s battle strategy: he believed he was playing chess. At the time I recall thinking that I would have been caught out like that. I used to like to think of myself as a deep thinker and one of the most hurtful things my first wife ever said to me, as she was walking out the door if I remember correctly or I might just be embellishing the past, was that I wasn’t deep at all. Though it stung at the time and for far longer than she probably expected – years in fact – I fear she may have hit the nail on the head. Nowadays I wouldn’t even have the arrogance to call my knowledge expansive.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I remember that: Khan had no experience thinking of battle in three dimensions, so he was limited to the 2D plane he was aware of, which is how Enterpise could attack him by surprise, by breaking out of the plane to circle around.

Making things by hand is different than writing or composing music, I agree. But I like the solidity of wood. In some ways, photography is very flat, very virtual. It has a lot of power in the image and the presentation of the image, but I've needed more and more lately to break out of the 2D plane.

12:16 AM  

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