Friday, September 13, 2013

Where Do Creative Ideas Come From?

Fragile (1370)  30x30"  Oil/cold wax on panel © 2013 Janice Mason Steeves

 In the film, "With My Back to the World",  the artist Agnes Martin talks about how the ideas for her paintings come to her in a flash of inspiration.  In fact, she painted directly from those visions, carefully working out the mathematical division of space.  When she finished a painting, she would simply wait until the next 'inspiration' came to her and didn't paint until it did. Once she had to wait 7 months, she said. My own ideas seem to come to me in  various ways.  Sometimes, like Agnes, I get a picture in my head of a painting.  I never can paint the exact image because I see it only vaguely. It's rather like an idea for a painting or an idea for a series of paintings. 

I find that ideas keep coming the more I work.  So many artists and musicians have said that.  Twyla Tharp said that in her book, "The Creative Habit", as did the composer, John Adams in "Hallelujah Junction".  Just begin.  Just get into the studio and begin. Start dancing.  Start playing the piano.  If I haven't been painting for more than a couple of weeks, I sometimes lose confidence and don't know where to begin.  When that happens, I might work on small paper pieces, knowing that they are completely disposable and unimportant.  Sometimes this playful work will lead into a body of work and reveal it's meaning only after I have completed a number of paintings.

I'm also influenced by place. I love to travel and am always excited to sort of devour the places I visit. When I am on an artist residency, I find I can't just jump into work, but have to walk, look and feel the place and incorporate it into my body. I travelled a couple of times with the famous Canadian landscape artist, Doris McCarthy, who painted and exhibited her work until she was in her mid-90's.  Once we went on an expedition to the Queen Charlotte Islands off the west coast of Canada.  She was in her 80's at the time.  We were on a sailboat that went from one island and Haida village to another.  Doris would jump off the dingy that took us to shore, set up her  gear and immediately begin painting.  That was her routine.  Her ideas came directly from the landscape and she painted what she saw.  I had to learn that my ideas didn't come that way.  They came more indirectly, through the body, from walking, looking and sensing.  And sometimes they don't come right away, on demand.  They have their own timing.   I think that Twyla Tharp and John Adams are right in saying to just begin.  But I think they are also saying that their ideas come through the body.
 Robert MacFarlane in his book The Old Ways, a Journey on Foot,  quotes Rousseau as saying, "I can only meditate when I am walking, when I stop I cease to think; my mind works only with my legs." Kierkegaard speculated that the mind might function optimally at the pedestrian pace of three miles per hour and in a journal entry describes going out for a wander and finding himself 'so overwhelmed with ideas' that he 'could scarcely walk'. 
"Nothing like a nighttime stroll to give you ideas."-Mad-eye Moody

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