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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.

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