This post was inspired by one written by Jane Davies, a collage and mixed media artist I admire. She wrote about an exchange with a reader concerning some simple collages made as practice.
“Q: My main question was if you had a purpose in mind when you created these simplified works, if you save them, and how you view the time spent creating them. Are you working towards a goal or just doing them for relaxation?
A: When I need a break from whatever larger work I’m doing, OR when I’ve been out of the studio for a while and am rusty, the best way to get ideas moving is to keep my hands and eyes DOING something in the studio. Not thinking, but doing. And that takes on many forms. This little exercise I just made up and did a LOT of them. The main point is to do SOMETHING with hands and eyes to generate ideas, see where it goes, keep in practice, jog something loose, get back to some basic ideas, etc. It is not for relaxation, though it might be relaxing.”
Susan Lenz addresses similar points in her article for a regional SAQA newsletter. She makes several helpful specific points about productivity. In response to comments about her seemingly prodigious work output she says, “Productivity is often the result of a habit that took years to adopt. Get yourself a time card. Track your hours. This isn’t about the quality of the work or the amount of money you have in it or might get out of it. It is about the time you spend trying. It is about the hours you actually work.”
[Sidebar: I should note that Lenz is fully supported by her husband who deals with many of the day to day practicalities so she doesn’t have to. Same deal with Susan Carlson. I’m alluding to the kind of support from spouses that women have traditionally supplied male artists. Yet women artists may feel guilty that their art is taking time away from their families and all the duties associated with day to day living. Now that I’m retired and am no longer responsible for a child I’ve given up any pretense of feeling guilty about dereliction of such duties. My husband does these things better than I do and I value his willingness to shop and cook. I still do the dusting as he has asthma.]
But to return to my original points, I think it’s just fine to create without a goal. In fact, it’s fun. Often what I make while messing around ends up in finished work. “All Decked Out” and “Sur La Table” were made with surface design experiments done for the heck of it.
If I depended on sales of art to support myself I might have a less cavalier attitude toward purposeful work, but the two artists I quote above support themselves through their work yet still feel the need to mess around.
Another way I mess around is to revise old, finished work. If I’m not happy with a piece and would never display it, why shouldn’t I try to make it better. Even if I make it worse, I’ll have learned something in the process. “All Fly Away” is an improv piece that I have been fussing with for a few years. I just couldn’t get it to work. Finally I looked at it as a black and white image and saw why – not enough value contrast and too light in the wrong places. So I darkened the flying triangles with a marker and toned down bright/light areas with paint. It still needs more value contrast, but I’m happy I could diagnose the problem.
Here’s some recent puttering I’ve done for no reason except I came across scraps while de-cluttering, and took a play break.
The overall point of my puttering is to keep doing; to practice, practice, practice. Often I have no end goal in mind. You can talk theory all you want, but trying and failing teach you a lot more. Maybe we should have a show of our interesting failures.
I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.