This is a condensed excerpt from my book in progress called “The general theory of creativity”, a project spawned from an article I wrote last year for Lori’s Blog, “Bring something to the table”. In this book we explore together the processes and stages of creativity as they pertain to painting (and other forms of creating), of which guided play is just one small portion. My goal as a professional artist and creative coach is to help others find their authentic voice and separate themselves from the herd. There are actually 9 steps to this section but I’ll just be focusing on one component.
Connectivity: The magic of creative alchemy
It has been my experience that many people assume those who are creative to be just naturally born that way, able to produce an idea, a painting or song without much effort, I’ve heard it said many times, “I wish I had been born with talent.” It’s certainly possible that there are some who were and are so gifted but the lions share of us who have spent a life making and designing things come by it the old fashioned way, years and years of practice combined with some version of a multi-leveled thought and implementation process, the following is but one aspect of the process.
The epicenter of the creative mind is connectivity, which is the pairing of two or more things in order make a brand new thing, a kind of intellectual alchemy; it is Shakespeare's use of metaphor to convey a thought, a lyric in a song describing a sky as bone colored rather than gray, it is the unlikely marriage of African rhythms and American folk music, an out of context sculpture of a 2 story garden shovel in a corporate park or a highly interpretive landscape painting, it can also be found in a really good joke. Getting to the state of being open to this kind of thinking takes a bit of process, a pinch of logic, a good deal of exploration, a heaping mound of concentrated effort and a whole lot of trust. And like anything else, it gets easier and better the more you do it.
Permission and guided play
“How much fun is this?” The thought flits through your mind as you make a drip-sand castle on the beach for the first time in 35 years. You did it as a kid at the lake or on summer vacay but now as an adult, there you sit, ass deep in sand, dripping your way to a Goudi-like thighscraper. As you build this baby with a loved one, your mind brims with stories that fill the small scale granular village; the reigning sand oligarchy, the sand minions, the great location on the beach with the unfortunate 8 hour flood zone, which as you and the wise sandcastle leaders both know, will take this structure and it's rich brief history and wash it back to the sand age. Then you look up in that child-like state of mind and scan the clouds, picking out the creatures, monsters and dinosaur shaped vessels that are always there but unnoticed until now. And it occurs to you, "How come I don't do this more often?" Play is fun.
You've probably experienced similar to this, if not directly, then you’ve witnessed it. A child at play. But have you ever seen an adult just sitting there alone and being a kid for no reason? Play time, day dreams, imagination all require permission, as in, "Hey Mom, can I go play sand castles with Big Freddie, Mikey and Gidget?" Only now it's an internal dialog, one where you have to give yourself a pass to do the things that might, in the short term, seem silly or a waste of time, even counter-intuitive. This part of the process requires trust, faith and courage and filing the old book of rules under N for "Not today" in your library. You are no longer an adult, you are now a big, wrinkly kid that does not require permission from anyone to enter the hallowed grounds of imagination and wonder.
If you are a newcomer to the act of play and the path of the curious mind, this pardon from adulthood might seem a challenge, you will be moving into uncertainty and that can be uncomfortable because why otherwise have you not done so before now? The current world of creative apps has made us all a bit complacent, they do all the work for you and make you look good. But where are you in that? A Martha Stewart recipe on how to make cool birthday unicorn glitter sprinkle cakes that are gluten free doesn't count either. While satisfying, except for the gluten free part, it’s a construction kit. Yes you make something but it’s handed over to you on a little bamboo tray wrapped in twine. What I am talking about is more like finding your authentic self within a multi-colored case of Play-Doh, it's going to take trust in the process and a Magellan-like sense of exploration.
If you are the experienced creative but looking for the next in your long line of nexts, a bit of guided play time will help to open the doors, move you out of neutral and quickly get you to a lot of new unexplored territory. If you are quite happy where you are it could be because you just haven’t gotten to that next place yet, you are still fleshing out whatever it is that you are currently working on. We call this a plateau, the space between growth cycles, which doesn’t necessarily mean stuck. A plateau is a stage of assimilation, refinement of intent and process and being a creative person can mean having more stages than the Rolling Stones. Each artists’ growth cycles are unique to them and range from a few months to a lifetime. Even if you are comfortable where you are it’s exponentially beneficial to continue to search beyond existing boundaries to seek new ground and new inspiration if, for no other reason, to give your existing process a little push. Giving yourself this gift of explorative play is a refresh button for your brain, an extra cylinder in your engine.
I’m going to Cliff note this but there is a lot of sameness going on in this genre of painting, nothing wrong with carrying on age old traditions but I personally like to hear the artists voice loud and clear. What separates a Gustav Klimt from a Maynard Dixon from a Monet? They all used the same tools, paints, brushes, rectangular canvases. It is in the choices they made on which components to accentuate and which to play down or ignore completely. In other words, the intent of the artist defines their authenticity. And a little bit of guided play can help you find your own voice.
Here’s one studio exercise that will help, I call it the Telephone Line after the campfire game of the same name. Using only a field study as reference, no nature, not photos, create another study about the same scale from the original and play up 2 or 3 of the components. Emphasize shape and edge only, interpreting the shapes more by design and pushing the edges more hard or more soft. Then put #2 away and do a new painting from the original playing up new components like limited value and mark making or division of space and pattern. Do as many as you can and don’t judge any of them while you are doing them, just do. If you wish to take it further, pick any of the second level versions and do another version from those. Cull out the ones you don’t like and assess the ones you do.
Why go through this? Many artists don’t really know who they are which makes it tough to be true to thine own self. Find out your authentic aesthetic through guided play and then bring a little of it back into your current work, this is how we grow.
Learn more about Larry and his work by visiting his website.