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Art Thoughts

The Creative Process, Part 2

©2022 Janet Maher, InterBeing #2, mixed media altered prints collage drawing

[Note: Some sections have been cut from my 1994 essay and I have done some new editing in this section.]

Many people are content with life as a day-to-day process with rules to follow and a regular pattern, largely determined by factors outside themselves. Employment is often a way that lives are structured, with the addition of time that may be taken up with entertainment, relaxation or pursuit of a hobby. For many, art may or may not be a factor in their lives.

Some may be the audience or the patrons, others are happily unaware of its existence. If they are aware, it is then necessary to consider what kind of art interests them. Here complexity begins, for although people all over the world may be active in producing or not-producing-but-possibly-purchasing art as part of their entertainment, as a means of relaxing, for pleasure, for gift-making, for decorating their or others’ homes, all art is not the same and all does not contain the same inherent life commitment and relative value.

There are critics, curators and historians who weigh and separate artworks. There are different places to show, to purchase or house different kinds of art, and art is produced for different reasons, different functions, and by people with different levels of talent and commitment. If we as a culture had not changed from a time when art was a natural part of life and people’s roles in relation to it were neatly and socially defined, we would probably not be discussing art and creativity as a topic at all.

I think it is safe to say that there are as many variations in the creative process and means of tapping into it as there are people involved with it. Many studies have been done and much has been written about the creative process. The results are often a pooling of quotes by sampled creators, an overview which might serve to give the reader a sense of relief. It’s certainly OK to need to stand on your head in the middle of the street in the rain when you don’t know what to do or to require a half hour of picking your nose before attempting to work. Perhaps this is one of the commonalities of the creative act, that everyone has their own idiosyncratic method of getting there. “There” may involve a particular place, a refuge for the soul, which one enters physically and/or psychically, willing to work and wait, and where one can be an open channel for something to come through and manifest in physical form, in a manner very much like what one might have experienced as a child when discovering everything in the world for the first time. 

Often the process of producing an artwork is like a spiritual, meditative, other-worldly experience. Long periods of time may go by unnoticed, and when the session ends the feeling may be one of calm, happiness and spiritual fullness. One can experience a state of bliss, flow, total absorption, spontaneity and freedom of spirit, and even fun. To experience this on a regular basis, who wouldn’t want to be an artist? Certainly the pleasure of making art hooks one from the beginning. The relaxation, the centering inherent in the activity, becomes augmented by the thrill of having produced something that one likes. To set out to make something is an adventure into oneself. Can I do what I am going to try? Will it surprise me?

One begins making, writing, singing, dancing, etc. for the pure spontaneous impulse and subsequent love of doing it. It is a free-flowing expression that takes its inspiration from some spark in one’s life. From a feeling, a memory, a thought, an idea, an image, a word, a seed of anything of relevance to one’s reality, something else is manifested in such a way that it can exist outside oneself as an independent entity. When one is a beginner, it is necessary to try anything and everything with abandon and to look uncritically at what lies inside oneself. To be a beginner in anything is a celebratory place to be, for every step is progress and every skill is still to be discovered. Beginners’ work is accepted as simply what it is, with encouragement to continue for whatever reason one may or may not want to continue. Importantly, at every step along the path to mastery one must retain the heart of a beginner.

The consideration of art as a gift is tied to the idea of the pursuit of art as a vocation. Once recognized, it is a matter of deciding how to make use of/honor a talent and to decide how much of a life investment and commitment is worth offering to it. One may decide to look deeper into one’s artistic gift in order to determine its worth. If one is very gifted and loves to be involved in art, would it be wise to go to law school as his or her parents wish? If one has a moderate interest and average talent would it be wise to call oneself an artist and forge ahead with visions of fame and freedom in mind?

What is the goal of making art? For some, the process is enough. It is a pleasurable activity, it fills available time or satisfies a need for self-expression and it is all that it is, nothing more or less. In this case it is a complete act. For others there is an urge to continue to strive toward further levels of development. Here is where serious questions need to be asked. Here is where it is necessary to know why one wants to be involved in art, where one wishes to grow with the gift, and for whom one is making the art/the work. For as involvement in art progresses, one must eventually seek to stretch beyond one’s perceivable limits.

We reach any plateau with great excitement and a deep sigh of satisfaction. Once at the end of our particular creative journey it may not be very long until we are raring to go again at something more challenging, shifting ever so slightly or greatly beyond the point we just reached. If we are striving to grow, in what direction will we train the vine? Once the process of art moves beyond the simple pursuit of pleasure, the rest of the creative process comes to the fore. As we are involved in creating we are continually in a dialogue with ourselves and the product we are forming. As the creation takes form we continually assess its progress, weighing it against our expectations for it and factoring in our own limitations. We may produce great numbers of things, allowing the space for all of them to come forth. After the fact we look back upon them in order to recognize the one/s which contain a particular resonance. When we feel that a work embodies all that we wish for it, we offer it out into the world. To what portion of the world is it appropriate to offer our creation? Here, too, is a personal assessment.

For those who reach beyond the joy of casual making, venturing into the rest of the world of actually choosing to embrace the calling of an artist may become ever more challenging and more of a balancing act. That a nurturing energy may enrich oneself emotionally or spiritually in the making of art contributes to the stereotyped and rude assumption commonly used to belittle the fact that what artists do is actual Work. Anyone who has ever tried to accomplish some skill, improve upon it, become good at it, then still continue to improve and grow in that skill should know that to dismiss art-making as a lesser vocation should recognize this to be a grave and short-sighted error. Perhaps they have not heard that art is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration nor believe that to actually be true. It is.

The making of art is also not necessarily a means of enriching oneself financially. In addition to the work of creating, artists without outside means of financial support for simply living day-to-day often also work several part-time jobs or entire full-time careers in order to support their true vocation. The artist’s reality of  multi-pronged juggling of simultaneous types of work is much less often recognized, acknowledged or discussed. Women artists often make the additional sacrifices of allowing their partner’s success to be treated as “more important” than their own, and choose not to have children due to the awareness of their own precarious financial instability. They instead support their artwork financially with additional outside work in lieu of financially supporting a child. [This tangential topic is due its own focus, as is the choice to travel the road of becoming an artist despite not having a trust fund, but not for this essay.] 

[To be continued…]

©2022 All Rights Reserved. Janet Maher, Trusting the Process: Getting There From Here, located on the website: CirclegardenStudio.com. Copies of this may be shared as long as there is no charge for them, the author is fully credited and this full copyright is included. 

By Janet Maher

I am a visual artist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Art from Loyola University Maryland. My longstanding interest in the history and culture of the land of my ancestors accompanied my work in the studio for many years, and I have written two books about that.

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