Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Black & White? White OR Black?

Ask any creative person, or anyone really, and you will discover that there are periods - some brief, some extended, when it is impossible to think of anything new. One sits and stares - at a screen, a page, a canvas, or simply out the window. Teachers call this 'day-dreaming' when kids do it in school. Bosses call it 'slacking' when you are at work, when simply, to me it is just a time when your mind is simply tired. Too often we forget that, like our bodies, our minds need rejuvenation and time to rebuild just like our bodies do. 'Chronic Fatigue Syndrome' is usually the medical diagnosis when your exhaustion finally takes you to the doctor. What is the usual prescription - rest, relaxation, proper diet, and sleep. Why? Because you have deprived your body of what it needs. Doctors call things 'syndromes' when they have no real, tangible, physical cause for a condition they are asked to diagnose. When that happens, they revert to what they know - find your physiological center and reboot your body.

What we forget in this hyper-sensory world in which we live is that our MINDS and your very SOULS need this same kind of attention, and we more often than not ignore all the signals that should take us to specialists who can help us deal with the process of mental-psychological restoration.

For Artists, I think it is even more of a challenge when we face these 'creative-blocks' as we call them. Sometimes we need to put down our tools, step back from the canvas, get up from the potters wheel, put down the instrument and find a way to get back the balance that we need to do what we do. It may seem self-important, but I think, maybe for Artists it might even be a bit more difficult, since, in addition to the same stuff all other human beings deal with that distract us from our centers, we have a special, maybe more active, place in our brains and in our souls that has the 'need' to be utilized, put to task and to be fulfilled. This is not to put down the passions of others who are not artists, by any means, but since this is my blog about Art and Survival, this is my focus.

What is inspiration and where does it come from? Ask 100 artists this question and you will most likely get 100 different answers, and all of them would be correct - for that artist. The really tricky thing is that, at least for me, inspiration does not always rise from the same triggers in my life. Sometimes is is a piece or section of a song. Sometimes the way the sun plays off of windows in the morning, or wet pavement as I drive. Sometimes it is the flash of memory of my family. Sometime it comes from looking at the art work of others. I can't give a simple answer. Currently, for obvious reason, may of my ideas come from my medical condition; drugs, tests, scans, surgeries, hospitals, offices, waiting, waiting, clocks, fear, hope, doubt, etc. So, when I make the daily trek to the studio and try to do SOMETHING. It is not always easy.

As a reminder of the challenge of this process, I keep in my studio, two small canvases - one pure black, and one pure white. Both the same size. Both clearly visible from everywhere in my studio. They are my mental reminders. Many cultures have myths surrounding the duality and opposing natures of Black and White, and within the 'Culture of Artists' there are near constant arguments that seem silly to those not involved. "What ARE Black and White?", "Are they COLORS or not?", "Are they just TONES that brighten or dull the 'real' colors we see?". The debate goes on.

In my world, these two small canvases remind me of beginnings and endings. I will not even say which is which, because like inspirational sources, that changes for me sometimes from day to day. Sometimes I see an image in my mind that I fee should 'emerge' from Black. Sometimes I see one that should 'emerge' from White. And, just to confuse the issue even more I see images that 'descend' into either one, passing through my canvas and leaving behind a 'trace' of what was there.

My process of painting at least involves usually three steps. Something inspires me. Then I do a 'sketch', 'pre-drawing' or 'practice drawing'. Finally I tack the sketch next to my work surface and go at the painting. Since, currently I work mostly in abstraction, I feel my work can flow and change as I create the final piece - and in fact, I rarely have a finished work that is exactly like my sketch. My mind drifts from the original idea, or some elements just don't seem to work, that is how it goes.

You would THINK that my process would lead to a pretty straight forward 'paint-by-numbers' or 'dot-to-dot' method with little difficulty making the first inspiration match the final piece. But as an old art teacher told me, "Life is not a coloring book! Some pages have lines missing, some pages force you outside the lines and some pages have no lines at all. The important thing is that YOU find something of value to YOU as you create."

So, why the Black & White canvases? What role do they play? They remind me that I must start SOMEWHERE. At some point I must put aside all the things going on 'outside' my artistic life and focus on what is trying to come through all of that and eventually make it into a finished image. The challenge recently is that sometimes the day to day things that go on outside my studio, are so hard to handle, so hard to get control of, so difficult to manage that aI end up 'creatively paralyzed' I am STUCK on BOTH Black & White, not knowing where to begin, where to end, what direction to go. In these situations I often try to revert to basics - I pick upp a simple pencil or pen and a piece of paper (okay, usually WHITE which is most common.) and I sit at my drawing table, turn on some music an stare dumbly like an idiot waiting for some artistically divine message or image to pop into my head and solve all my problems... to give me something ELSE to focus on besdes what is going on in thenon-artistic parts of my life.

I sit. I wait, I drink coffee (sometimes I progress to Guiness), I listen to music. I wait some more. I sit some more. I bounce my pencil absentmindedly on my paper. My eyes wander around the studio. Finished work here. Art by friends there, Unfinished work over there. And, then, my eyes land on the little Black and White Canvases - reminding me of the nature of beginnings and endings.

Suddenly I look down at my paper. My bouncing pencil has actually made a patter of marks that are kind of cool! Almost subconsciously my right, non drawing hand, reaches over and turns up the music. My left drawing hand puts down the No. 2, pencil, reaches for the coffee mug (or beer bottle). I take a sip, evaluate the pattern on the paper. Left hand puts down the drink, and reaches into the pencil box for a color - at this point I don't even pay attention to it, all I know is that I have begun, something. I don't know where it is going. I don't know what it will become, all I know is it allows me another chance to breathe. To breathe through the things that life sends my way. It allows me, in a small way to get my mind, spirit and body to return to some kind of mutual center, where I can 'reset' and maybe, just maybe by the time I tire of working, return to a place of calm which will all me to go on and deal with the things  - often difficult things - in the 'regular-world' that I may not have been able to handle, were it not for the chance to create.

Art as survival. Survival through Art. It is sometimes as simple as tapping a pencil on a paper. Stop, be still, breathe and do. And, of course, drink really good coffee....

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