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Monday, July 22, 2013

Creative Acts and Anarchy

So what constitutes a creative act?

When I was a child I used to spell naughty forbidden words in my alphabet soup. It was a minor mischief, that could be easily undone with my spoon if my mother approached. It was thrilling, an act of disobedience, of a sort. I was never specifically forbidden to write bad words in my soup, but I knew I was transgressing an unspoken rule.

When Senator Jesse Helms succeeded in eliminating American government grants to individual artists because he considered some of the funded works to be obscene, I assembled 100 female dress dummies in a gallery, and placed black rectangles of paper over their breasts and groins, reminiscent of old medical journal photographs. The mute message was summed up in a statement in the front of the gallery, addressed to Mr. Helms: You cannot censor art.

Some creative acts are by their nature transgressive. They hold a stark mirror to the viewer. They say, "See, this is what you may think is wrong".

All artists who break new ground risk rejection by the mainstream. To create, sometimes, is to misbehave. We have all colored outside the lines at times.

When I was in Kindergarten, (five years old) my teacher set us the task of covering a circular frame with blue cord, knotting it along the outer edge. She carefully showed us how to make the specific knot. But I was left-handed, and I did it backwards. It looked fine to me, but my teacher took particular pains to show me the error of my ways.  Nevertheless, I continued to do it my own way, because it felt right to me, and the result, although reversed, looked good to me.  She corrected me twice. I ignored her, and for the first time realized that not only can grownups be mistaken, I became aware that my own creative acts carried a strong sense of power.

Sunday painters, with their careful realism, never break the rules. Entire genres of how-to books are written for them, so they can be assured of knowing the right and proper ways to paint. They are taught how to "correct mistakes".

It is important to know the rules, to apply composition, perspective, color theory, brush techniques.

But it is far more important, once you know the rules, to know that it is permissible, even desirable, to break the rules.

It is a powerful thing, to break the rules of art. Only by doing this are we able to be truly creative.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Portable Studio

I've been accused, and rightly so, of over-packing my art supplies on my travels.

So this year, embarking on an annual trek 750 miles away, I have endeavored to limit my watercolor art supplies to what I consider to be the absolute bare minimum.

It was actually a really soft lovely leather bag that enabled me to do this. It is taller than it is wide, so I have the ability to put in it my long landscape sketchbooks. It is  commodious. It is large enough to contain what I consider my essentials, but small enough to easily carry.

Here's what it contains:

My antique Cadbury candy tin containing a half pan of every watercolor color I like.

A pencil box full of my favorite brushes and pens, including mechanical pencils and extra leads.

A plastic container that doesn't leak for water.

A tiny bottle of gesso.

A bottle of ink.

Five sketchbooks I am currently keeping.

Paper towels, and a tiny container of brush cleaner.

For me, this is the absolute minimum.
I feel somehow freed by this very contained portable studio. Not having access to my great hoard of art supplies constrains me to focus my creative intentions.

Now, I must admit I also packed a very large tote bag of my favorite inspirational books. And my large double tray tin of water soluble crayons.

Having limitations and boundaries can be very freeing, especially if you're the kind of artist that works on many projects. It forces you to concentrate on one type of work, one set of tools and techniques. Your creative mind knows that the focus is specific. 

You are working with self imposed limitations.

And the best part is that no matter what, wherever you are, a very quickly assembled studio is immediately available.