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Searching for New Paths

Iceworks 48  12x15" Oil/cold wax on panel ©2018 Janice Mason Steeves
Just a week ago, I was interviewed by Rebecca Crowell for her podcast: The Messy Studio. It was a very casual interview, especially because her "recording studio" in New Mexico where I was visiting her, was a blanket fort on the floor beside her bed!

As I listened to the podcast last week when it was posted, I was reminded again how important the idea of play is in my own art practice. Click here to listen to the interview. Rebecca has observed that my work has a conceptual component and asked which comes first, the idea or the painting. I responded that it's always play that comes first, staying open to what wants to come through. No direction. No purpose. No worrying about whether anyone would like the work or not. Simply playing with materials.

I realize I've written about play several times over the years. It still fascinates me: that state of not-knowingness. Of being open to the fertile empty state of possibility.

There is a wonderful essay entitled "In the Space of Art"  written by Mary Jane Jacob from the book "Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art". She writes, "In art as in Buddhism, creative potential resides in that nothing place, that nowhere of emptiness; an open space without attachment to outcome, with an aim to guide the process but the goal (the answer) kept at bay...for as long as usefully possible."

She goes on to say, "Practice is about trying, developing, cultivating, improving. Practice connotes repetition: to practice, to perfect. Practice becomes one of the rituals of life, continual acts of doing. And sustaining a practice-not just surviving in the business of art, but living in the space of art-means to know that the process is of greater value than the product, that the making...and even arriving at the making...exceeds the thing made, that the experience outweighs the material form."

Richard Serra in the book, "Spark: How Creativity Works",  freed himself from the constraints of making art by approaching it as play. He said, "I'm interested in the notion of play; [I'm] not interested in the end, [I'm] interested in the activity itself; [I'm] interested in not worrying in a self-conscious way about what I have to make."

In my studio, I follow the work (play) to see where it leads. It inevitably leads to new ideas and to a new series of paintings. But it starts slowly. And as it moves along, I discard the ideas I find don't hold my interest, and follow the ideas that continue to feel playful. After a time of playing and gradually creating a series, I sit back and ask the work what it wants to say. What is it about? I listen to it. There's always an answer. Often it surprises me. So Rebecca's question about which comes first, the painting or the concept has a very clear answer. It's always play that leads the way.


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