So, as you can probably tell, I’ve been thinking about and creating more art as of late, and I’ve been really thinking about the process of being an artist and the things that get in the way of producing art. I have to thank my friend Alexia Prichard for posting about and drawing my attention to this video from TED of Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on genius. It is a great explanation of part of what impedes art (although Gilbert’s largely talking about writing rather than visual art, she’s discussing wrestling with the expectations of the non-writer or non-artist and the idea of genius). In summary, she discusses the weight of producing something great vs. just producing and how the former can impede the latter if we allow it:
Additionally, Kottke’s post about Kevin Kelly’s review of Art and Fear underscores the point that if you’re over-thinking your art, you’re probably not producing as much of it as you could be, and that in and of itself prevents you from making quality work. Quantity leads to quality moments of inspiration and learning from your mistakes. I approach most of my work life this way, so it shouldn’t be too hard to ensure that I’m approaching making art in the same way.
In addition to these two things—the weight of the idea of genius and over-thinking—I think there’s a third factor that I’m possibly just starting to come to terms with in terms of impediments to art: the opinions and input of non-artists. I draw and sculpt and paint, normally by myself, in my own head and with my own vision (and whatever external inspiration is driving that vision, per the video above). My art involves a process that is not meant, really, for an audience. The end produced piece of art is what calls for the audience, but in some ways, an audience during the process can severely impede the creation of that art, if I let it. It’s one of the reasons that I originally didn’t want to post pictures of the sculpture I’m currently working on, and it’s one of the reasons why, I think, I sometime have difficulty working on my art with my wife around. Thinking about some of the good pieces that I’ve done since we’ve been married, I realize that the best ones were created when she wasn’t around. I drew Samuel Beckett in one afternoon when she was away in an unexpected fury of ink. I also never worked on the Cash painting when she was around and if she would come home and start talking to me about the piece. I would stop working on it immediately.
Now I’m not trying to fault Kristin here in any way, and I’m not saying she’s not artistic; she’s a trained dancer and very filled with art, but it’s performance art. Performance art is nearly in polar opposition to the type of art that I engage in. Performance art relies on an audience during the process of the art. It’s often a repeated performance, created from a series of repeated and well-learned movements and motions, where the artist performing becomes part of the art, and, normally, has some direction as to how he/she should be performing, even if that direction comes from a director inside the performing artist’s head. Critique and instruction and correction are part of the process of the art itself.
Kristin often comes in as I’m working on something and immediately makes comments guessing what the thing I’m working on is supposed to be or will be upon completion, and then makes comments suggesting what she would like to see it be. Last night she started looking at the sculpture I’m working on and started telling me what metals she would like to see it cast in.
I’m already trying carefully to hear the muse and see the vision of what the piece I am working on should be as I’m working on it, while also trying to avoid the over-thinking that can impede the act of creation and get in the way of me attaining that vision, and here, suddenly, is someone else’s vision, coming from, for all intents and purposes, a non-artist perspective, telling me what she would like to see produced. I have to carefully avoid listening to this input, lest it destroy what I’m doing.
This is very different than the input from mentors in the past—my mother, my art tutors, my fellow artists, or my art instructors in college—who would offer critique of my methods or approach, or ask about what I was working on and offer suggestions to facilitate the process of achieving my vision. It’s not critiquing the creation of the art. It’s critiquing an imagined end result of the art that the person commenting cannot possibly know because he/she doesn’t see it the way I do. This, I think, is what most artists hear from non-artists all the time, and I think it’s something we have to really fight against listening to while working on the piece. Once the piece is completed, then is the time to listen and absorb this type of critique, as it may help inspire and direct us towards new pieces. Listening during the process will inevitably lead to a larger and larger gap between the initial vision, the non-artist’s vision, and the emerging reality of the piece that will most likely destroy the artist’s interest in continuing the work.
Of course, this may be entirely unique to my art process. I’d love to hear differing opinions.