Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Trying is everything.
I had a conversation with someone here at the B&B awhile back about what it takes to conceive and execute creative projects. She said to me very clearly, "Well, I don't have any talent, so I don't bother trying. It's too frustrating." It's moments like this that I ride the fine line between being a host and shutting my mouth, or simply going ahead and putting my foot in it.
I understand that it's frustrating to want to do something and not be able to do it well. We get slammed from every side with beautiful imagery of people and things which we should be able to somehow internalize and replicate. But it's not that easy.
First we have to figure out what suits us, and what we like. That alone can be a daunting task when many of us have been told most of our lives what we should like and what should suit us. I think everyone should have to live in a room with no furniture in it for a month -- just a mattress on the floor and a white blanket. Wipe the slate clean. Start fresh. Get rid of every bit of preconception and paradigm which has been reigned down upon us by media, well meaning family and friends, spouses.
Not being able to do something well does not mean that a person does not have talent. When learning about creativity, I was astounded to learn how much each discipline was technical. Painting and drawing require learning to record perspective and proportion correctly. This is a technical discipline, not a creative one. It comes with practice, like multiplication tables. The talent comes later, when choosing what to paint and how to best express the subject matter.
There are five hand positions on the pottery wheel which, when executed, result in a bowl. They are five technical things a person must master. Nothing to do with talent. It's just practice and repetition. The talent comes later, when the bowl is made -- how can it be altered to be more interesting, what kind of glaze should it take, how does it fit in with the rest of the series?
Painting an interesting wall means understanding which raw pigments work together and which don't. Nothing creative about it. It's trial and error, and recording results. It's understanding the properties of different materials and learning application methods. The talent comes later, when deciding what colors and what treatments suit a specific space.
The interesting thing is, that one a few technical skills have been mastered, the creativity, yes, the talent, starts to flow, all on its own. I have seen it time and time and time again. People who perceived themselves as completely incapable of creativity blossom. Take on a new art. Internalize color. Learn what they like. View the world around them differently.
But so many people don't make it over that first hurdle because they believe that in order to start, they have to magically produce some sort of talent they don't believe they even have, when what they should be doing is starting to understand the technical part of the art which they might be interested in.
I did an exhibition once in Hamburg. My installation was a door, raw wood, lying on the floor, one end slightly raised. On the door where 150 tiny icy green vases. The theme of the installation was "The Home". The door itself I found in a junkyard, and had about 20 coats of oil based lacquer on it. I learned a lot about stripping wood from that door. I learned that if you mix 10% peroxide with ammonia (kids, don't do this at home), it gets a lot of garbage off an old piece of wood. My colleague and Altelier mate Katharina Ortleb, who is an artist and a carpenter, taught me that. And you can just imagine what throwing 150 vases on the pottery wheel taught me. I pretty much knew it all about small vases after that. I don't have a picture of that exhibit, but I promise you it was very aesthetically pleasing. But the majority of what it took to produce that result was technical. The "talent" came only in the shape of the vases, color of the glaze, the final wax on the door, the positioning of the installation.
One more thing. If you try to produce something , and you think it's drivel, try again. And again. Don't give up so easily. Creativity is not for the thin skinned, believe me. Go ahead and criticize your own work, and listen if you want to the criticizm of others. But after that, put it aside and move on. Try again and again. Your work will move out of the drivel category to the eh-eh category to the well, that's a little better category to the not bad category to the hey, that's pretty good category to the holy shit that's awesome category.
But only if you keep trying.