Monday, August 24, 2009
The future of any creative endeavor is uncertain. I've learned that the only project worth doing is the one you don't know where it's headed . . .
Life unfolds in much the same way.
I'm going to publish one blog post per day on the Blog of Innocence. It took me awhile to get to this point. And I've been writing my whole life!
But confidence is fleeting. There is always a small fear that nothing more will come out of the well, that the well has dried up for good.
The well is never dry. It only needs time before a new groundswell is discovered, more abundant and richer than the last.
Right now I'm working on an art journal for the Escape into Life Moleskine Project. In contrast to my usual manner of writing essays, I have virtually no inhibitions while creating these pages.
There are no rules for the journal. I fill it with doodles, poetry, ephemera, free-writing, collage, illustrations. I use a variety of pens, markers, even some crayons.
I remember when I was in grade school we used to have a half-hour of free time in class. I would sit at a round table next to a friend and we would draw pictures on notebook paper. We made fanciful patterns with red and green markers, and lots of skulls and caricatures. After awhile the other students saw us drawing all the time and they would come over to the table to watch . . .
Before I begin working in my journal at night, I read from one of two art books I purchased last month. The first book is called, Street Sketchbook: Inside the Journals of International Street and Graffiti Artists. Sketchbook is described as "unparalleled access to the books of more than sixty contemporary artists worldwide working in a broad range of disciplines--from graffiti and street art to illustration, painting, design and animation."
I have an affinity to illustration art. My favorite artist of all time is Henry Darger. There is something about illustration art that mystifies me. The Street Sketchbook reveals the illustrations and markings of graffiti artists in their private sketchbooks, and for some reason, this excites me.
The second book is 30,000 Years of Art: the story of human creativity across time and space, by the editors of Phaidon.
The gigantic book barely fits on my lap. It presents 1000 masterworks from different countries, cultures and civilizations. I've only gotten up to 3300 BC. I marvel at the artifacts, trying to imagine the artists who carved ivory tusks, painted images of bison on cave ceilings, and engraved life-size depictions of giraffes on rock.
When I open to a fresh page in my journal, or turn to a page I've been working on, I enter a state of near total relaxation. I practiced Zen meditation for five years, twice daily, and nothing comes even close to what my brain does when I'm drawing and working in my journal.
The first markings I create on a page don't meet my expectations. To be honest, I find them a bit juvenile. But for some reason, working in this medium, it doesn't bother me. I have already created the space and the freedom to draw and write spontaneously. This is also where my energy and relaxation comes from.
And then, something interesting happens. I go back to pages I started. I spot an opening on a page and begin to tease out another progression of lines, or experiment with a different pen. Soon an entirely different picture comes into focus.
I am zigzagging through the journal, picking up wherever my instinct guides me.
What I find is that my "mistakes" are no longer mistakes. A previous error simply leads to another framework, a re-appropriation of the original lines.
In this sense, there are no mistakes. In fact, it is impossible to make a mistake.
What I discovered with drawing in less than three weeks, I'm still trying to fully grasp about writing. Because writing follows the same principle. Nothing I write in the first draft is it. There can only be formlessness in the beginning. But when I go back to a poem, a drawing, or the chapter of a novel, I begin to see it differently.
There are no absolutes in human creativity. A work of the imagination is never finished and it always holds the possibility of becoming something else.
Like many writers, I struggle with this. My whole writing career can be summed up by an attempt to break free from my inhibitions while writing. I just want to write and not care about whether it will turn out a certain way. I want to immerse myself--and channel the writing directly.
But a nervous edge, usually present at the start and sometimes into the middle, tells me that what I'm doing must be perfect, must be absolute.
Yet when we look at great works of art, there is an honesty, an openness. It's the enigma of the work which comes from the unknown. And though we may perceive the work as perfect, the artist's conception had to go through countless deaths and rebirths to arrive at that last reincarnation before our eyes.
The beauty of the art journal is that there are no absolutes of creation. Whatever goes down on paper can always be re-envisioned, re-invented, re-worked. Words can cover words, drawings can grow out like vines, and if the page you've created becomes hideous or revolting, you can always paste a picture over it.
Art is impermanent. Nothing I create during my lifetime will be the final word, the final poem, the final drawing. All is ongoing, evolving, entering into a new context or another possibility.
I may not know what it is I'm creating, but it's better that way. Let my guide be the work itself, rather than my conscious thoughts. To follow this path, I must be willing to stumble and look foolish. But if I allow those perfect sentences to fall apart, and those mistakes to be part and parcel of the work, then I've shown that I'm ready to be counseled.
It has a voice, you know, and desires of its own. We only need to listen to our creations.