Monday, August 24, 2009

The Unknown Aspect of Human Creativity

The future of any creative endeavor is uncertain.
I've learned that the only project worth doing is the one you don't know where it's headed . . .

Life unfolds in much the same way.

I'm going to publish one blog post per day on the Blog of Innocence. It took me awhile to get to this point. And I've been writing my whole life!

But confidence is fleeting. There is always a small fear that nothing more will come out of the well, that the well has dried up for good.

The well is never dry. It only needs time before a new groundswell is discovered, more abundant and richer than the last.

Right now I'm working on an art journal for the Escape into Life Moleskine Project. In contrast to my usual manner of writing essays, I have virtually no inhibitions while creating these pages.

There are no rules for the journal. I fill it with doodles, poetry, ephemera, free-writing, collage, illustrations. I use a variety of pens, markers, even some crayons.

I remember when I was in grade school we used to have a half-hour of free time in class. I would sit at a round table next to a friend and we would draw pictures on notebook paper. We made fanciful patterns with red and green markers, and lots of skulls and caricatures. After awhile the other students saw us drawing all the time and they would come over to the table to watch . . .

Before I begin working in my journal at night, I read from one of two art books I purchased last month. The first book is called, Street Sketchbook: Inside the Journals of International Street and Graffiti Artists. Sketchbook is described as "unparalleled access to the books of more than sixty contemporary artists worldwide working in a broad range of disciplines--from graffiti and street art to illustration, painting, design and animation."

I have an affinity to illustration art. My favorite artist of all time is Henry Darger. There is something about illustration art that mystifies me. The Street Sketchbook reveals the illustrations and markings of graffiti artists in their private sketchbooks, and for some reason, this excites me.

The second book is 30,000 Years of Art: the story of human creativity across time and space, by the editors of Phaidon.

The gigantic book barely fits on my lap. It presents 1000 masterworks from different countries, cultures and civilizations. I've only gotten up to 3300 BC. I marvel at the artifacts, trying to imagine the artists who carved ivory tusks, painted images of bison on cave ceilings, and engraved life-size depictions of giraffes on rock.

When I open to a fresh page in my journal, or turn to a page I've been working on, I enter a state of near total relaxation. I practiced Zen meditation for five years, twice daily, and nothing comes even close to what my brain does when I'm drawing and working in my journal.

The first markings I create on a page don't meet my expectations. To be honest, I find them a bit juvenile. But for some reason, working in this medium, it doesn't bother me. I have already created the space and the freedom to draw and write spontaneously. This is also where my energy and relaxation comes from.

And then, something interesting happens. I go back to pages I started. I spot an opening on a page and begin to tease out another progression of lines, or experiment with a different pen. Soon an entirely different picture comes into focus.

I am zigzagging through the journal, picking up wherever my instinct guides me.

What I find is that my "mistakes" are no longer mistakes. A previous error simply leads to another framework, a re-appropriation of the original lines.

In this sense, there are no mistakes. In fact, it is impossible to make a mistake.

What I discovered with drawing in less than three weeks, I'm still trying to fully grasp about writing. Because writing follows the same principle. Nothing I write in the first draft is it. There can only be formlessness in the beginning. But when I go back to a poem, a drawing, or the chapter of a novel, I begin to see it differently.
There are no absolutes in human creativity. A work of the imagination is never finished and it always holds the possibility of becoming something else.

Like many writers, I struggle with this. My whole writing career can be summed up by an attempt to break free from my inhibitions while writing. I just want to write and not care about whether it will turn out a certain way. I want to immerse myself--and channel the writing directly.

But a nervous edge, usually present at the start and sometimes into the middle, tells me that what I'm doing must be perfect, must be absolute.

Yet when we look at great works of art, there is an honesty, an openness. It's the enigma of the work which comes from the unknown. And though we may perceive the work as perfect, the artist's conception had to go through countless deaths and rebirths to arrive at that last reincarnation before our eyes.

The beauty of the art journal is that there are no absolutes of creation. Whatever goes down on paper can always be re-envisioned, re-invented, re-worked. Words can cover words, drawings can grow out like vines, and if the page you've created becomes hideous or revolting, you can always paste a picture over it.

Art is impermanent. Nothing I create during my lifetime will be the final word, the final poem, the final drawing. All is ongoing, evolving, entering into a new context or another possibility.

I may not know what it is I'm creating, but it's better that way. Let my guide be the work itself, rather than my conscious thoughts. To follow this path, I must be willing to stumble and look foolish. But if I allow those perfect sentences to fall apart, and those mistakes to be part and parcel of the work, then I've shown that I'm ready to be counseled.

It has a voice, you know, and desires of its own. We only need to listen to our creations.


Mike Arnzen said...

More power to you. I find that doing something creative outside my usual forms of expression helps inspire them all. Its contagious. Bravo! Have you heard of the "sketchbook" project? Google it -- its up your alley.

warren said...

For an artist of any type, the value of a sketchbook/notebook cannot be overstated.

Thats probably the biggest difference between a notebook and, say, a word processor -- the latter suggests linearity of approach, a beginning, middle and end; its difficult to work organically in a conventional WP program.

Linear writing, like linear (video) editing, is an outmoded concept foisted off on us by tools inadequate to suit our needs.

So keep up with that there Moleskine.

Amanda Fall - PersistentGreen said...

Wow. Just found you through RT on Twitter. How odd to feel as if many of these words could have spilled from my own mouth (or hands, I suppose). As a fellow essayist, poet, and brand-new art journaler, I really appreciated this post.

For me, too, its all about finding the freedom--from "mistakes," from perfectionism, from the expected, from anything that holds us back from our dream. Im wrapping up a 100-day project involving daily art journal entries. Its done wonders for freeing me up in my writing and all forms of art.

Delighted to have found your blog. Ill definitely be back.

ChaSchva said...

Very nice breakdown of your thought process. I kept a journal and sketchbook (mostly separately) while I lived in Prague and they went splendidly. I used many of the same processes that you described, even. There are still times I jot in my various journals/sketchbooks, but its hard when Im in a routine or familiar environment.

Difficult isnt always bad, though. In fact, quite the contrary. That said, I think I will purchase my moleskine this evening.


K. Kayin W. said...

Like kids, you raise them, give them a good home, nurture and care and teach them, when they get old, you let them go and let them stand on their own. They may not be perfect, they may not turn out the way you wish or hope for, but theyre your kids nonetheless and all you can do is love them.

Enjoy the process, the struggles and everything that go with it. Thats all we can do.

rosebud101 said...

I like what you said: There are no mistakes! You are so right. In the creative mind, there are only opportunities for change and development.

Kelvin Oliver said...

Im seeing that you are have a strong relationship with the human creativity... the arts. I also believe that this post shows your passion about what you interest you and what you are doing with all artists alike. I remember writing a post way back talking about how we should stop thinking and that allows creativity to take place.

Its impressive to see a writer/blogger to place a goal to have one post a day. Some dont make it do that one post a day and others over do it. In some ways, it is just enough depending on the person and the blog.

HermanMbamba said...

It is very impressive. During the process of creativity, there should be absolutely no mistakes. Simply because ideas need to flow through a stream of consciousness.I always liked the idea of the sketchbook.

Lethe said...


Im so glad youve commented on this because its something I think about quite often, especially lately.

Let me share some of my thoughts:

Part of the benefit of not considering myself an artist is that when I make art, I can just fool around. In contrast, when Im writing, I always have to battle with my inner critic, my inner editor.

Ever since I began the EIL Moleskine project, in which I fill up a Moleskine journal with doodles, illustrations, colors, words, and collage, Ive been able to maintain this attitude of just having fun.

In fact, I have this hidden belief that my errors only appear that way in the beginning. As I continue to work on an illustration, Im always able to make something out of a supposed mistake.

This is incredibly freeing for me, and I wonder if Im able to maintain this attitude because I dont have any training.

Ive always been fond of Outsider Art. It speaks to me about how anything can be beautiful, not necessarily art that carries a formal background or training.

I once read a quote by a famous sketch artist who said the difference between an amateur and an experienced artist is that an experienced artist will not erase.

Whereas in amateur work, you see a lot of eraser marks and corrections; an experienced artist turns those mistakes into the picture itself.

Thanks for commenting,

tony said...

"There are no rules for the journal. I fill it with doodles, poetry, ephemera, free-writing, collage, illustrations. I use a variety of pens, markers, even some crayons".

I remember reading an article about business men in meetings that would doodle during the meetings. It turns out those people went on to become creative and successful in whatever occupation they choose.
The mind welcomes and nourishes itself when it can utilize a motor skill such as manipulating a pen or pencil in conjunction with forcing itself to develop spatial images such as drawing in perspective or modeling with clay.

You may consider it simple doodleing but it is actually a smorgasbord of food for your mind to nourish itself with and develop a much more pronounced neural map.

Keep on doodleing and sketching, its good for you.

Tony Zelinko

Lethe said...

Thanks Tony!

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