On and off I’ve had a conversation with an artist friend. She feels like she hasn’t made any work this year and is blocked because she hasn’t had any good ideas. Yet, the ideas she shares with me are amazing. They are interesting mixing of materials, unique reinterpretations of design, etc. Yet, she feels she isn’t an artist because these ideas are not directed by meaning or concept. I keep arguing otherwise but she keeps harping on herself about exactly that and how possibly can she be an artist if she lets material drive her creativity?
That is exactly why I’m driven to write this blog. I can think of countless artists who have made quotes along the lines of: “I let the critics sort the meaning, I just do the work.” Since when is everything first driven by concept? Look at Surrealism, a movement driven by the subconscious and dreams; how could we possibly create in a Surrealist mode of art if we planned everything out first?
I wonder when academia began to get in the way of artists? Both of us are art teachers and I often think our demand for our students to understand concepts and theory behind their creation impedes our own creativity. When students feel stuck by this mode of thinking, I tell them to make for art’s sake. I argue the sheer act of creation imbues a work with meaning, even if the artist him or herself does not fully understand the work at first. And it is this pressure of sound concept and strong idea that blocks many an artist. I think this notion could well impact artists outside of visual arts as well. I once wrote a lot of poetry. If I spent my time first thinking about meaning I would have never taken the time to write out ideas I had when I woke up in the middle of the night, which were my strongest poems!
It frightens me to think people I know are full of so many good ideas that could help make this world better hold back because of exactly that kind of thought process. I do think there is room to analyze, reflect and theorize, but must it come first? Through the creation of a body of work, can’t the idea begin to show itself?
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How do other creatives manage the creation and meaning dilemma? Must you have your idea and concept evident in the work from the beginning? Does your creative process lead you to your idea? Share below.
Fabulous Post! Got here from Patrick (The Artist’s Road) tweet. I’m also an artist and teacher (I use the word “facilitator,” as I work at a homeless shelter and basically give them the materials and a prompt to get them started. As for me, meaning almost invariably comes while I am in process. Be it visual art or creative writing. I learn as I go. With visual work, sometimes I don’t know what I am saying (was saying) until years later. With writing, I’ve heard it called “driving at night with the headlights on” … i.e. I see the road unfold slowly before me, sentence by sentence. Often I’ve got only a vague idea, a sentence, to begin with. Meaning comes as I continue and watch concept link to concept. At the risk of sounding “new agey” it really feels like a spiritual, revelatory process at times. I will be following and will return to read more!
Thank you Terri! The particular course I teach often has me using the word facilitator rather than teacher. What an interesting journey it must be to support those you do in your role. I am a planner by heart so it takes some acceptance and release for me to embrace the creative journey. Yet, each time I do I feel my work is stronger for it. I feel our process can be heavily tied to our subconscious and the skills we have learned over the years. I think when we focus on creation our skillset and intuition works together more so than when we stop and analyze or judge ourselves along the way. There is room for reflection, but later in the creative process it is more productive than destructive. Thank you for sharing and I hope you continue to enjoy Artist Think!