Last week I talked to an artist who has just returned to painting after a long period of time. The conversation finally got to a familiar place, “Where do your ideas come from?” I tried to think fast on how to give him an easy answer, when out came, “I have so many ideas I could work another lifetime on just the ones already in my head.” Not very helpful to him, I know, but wow…expressing that thought lit a bulb inside my head. Conceptios, inspirations, ideas, and creative thoughts seem to be easier to come by for some more than others. Some artists agonize over getting them, and are afraid to follow through with them. Others can’t seem to stop their minds from grinding them out and expressing them in paint, ink, crayon, music, mud, gardening, photography or what ever might be their way of making themselves understood.
Having ideas and then making great art is a skill that comes from many different places. When we are children we have endless imagination that creates uncountable ideas each hour and each minute. We may or may not choose to fully express those ideas because they may be scary, dangerous or way above our capabilities. Most of us artist types do follow them. We let our imaginations run wild, we experiment, we scribble, we cut, we paste, we sing at the top of our voices and we sometimes see things that aren’t really there (or are they?). When an idea is inconvenient or impractical to develop at a particular time true artists file them away in their creative brains and keep them fresh and at their fingertips.
Having an idea is defined as the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or not previously known or experienced. This gives us as artists the freedom to go anywhere. We don’t need to travel the earth or the skies to paint what passes through our minds day or night (dreams). If we feel stuck with no ideas it may be our own fault.
Self censorship. “I can’t put that on paper. It’s too embarrassing. My mother, father, teacher, children, the public will not be able to relate to what I’m imagining. It makes me too upset to write it.” So we stop ourselves and try to make only exact imitations of what we have seen or heard before. We try to make things so close to the real that we might as well take a picture. But, artists, real life is just as interesting and weird as anything we can come up with. We must be brave, look hard at the world and express what is on our minds, in our heads and needs to get out.
Fear of rejection. Every artist I know fears rejection. The successful ones fear rejection less than the unsuccessful ones. That is why we’ve seen the weakest artists quit working during this awful recession. Some will never come back. Financial ups and downs and rejection are both part of making a living from the creative process. Don’t paint for anyone but yourself. My most successful paintings have been of ideas and subjects that I’m obsessed with. When I put them into a show, I find they sell better than any “pretty pictures” I might paint. And they’re sure a lot more fun to finish. They are real and I can be proud of them.
How can I get and use ideas? The answer is close enough to touch. You need to work to get ideas. You need to tap into that good memory of yours. Look at the world around you. Look at the real places and things that are happening each day. Pull from your childhood, teenaged years and from that crazy group of relations we all have. Watch TV, look at websites, know what’s going on around you. Find your place in it. “La vida te a sopresas.” (Life is full of surprises). Lucky for us. Be aware of them. Have no fear. Use them. If you overhear an interesting conversation somewhere, LISTEN, and write down what you hear or draw what you see in a sketchbook. I think at this moment in time artist’s sketchbooks have become way too precious. There are even what I’ve heard are “very good” classes on how to keep one. You don’t need a class! A sketchbook should be down and dirty, messy and full of writing, quotes from books, new words, scribbles, songs, poetry, notes, sketches, bad drawings, bad language, jokes and of course touches of genius. It doesn’t have to be perfect and organized and done in color or available for all to see. It’s YOUR private space to be uncensored and real and recollect all of the ideas you’ve had since you’ve been born.
For the last few weeks my ideas are flowing like waterfalls. I’ve been doing what I call “En ese momento” (At that moment). These are small collages that I finish and send by mail to artist friends. I don’t censor myself. I just create. Some make sense. Some don’t. But it’s fun. It flows. I have more ideas than I can handle. Work comes from work. Ideas come from ideas. I have countless great reasons to get up each morning and go into my studio. If you love something… happiness will follow. Trust me.
“A painter can turn pennies into gold, for all subjects are capable of being transformed into poems.” –Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres 1780-1867
I’ll be having a weekend workshop on Saturday and Sunday, August 28th and 29th at The Dalles Art Center. I’ll be teaching “Making Monotypes with Pastels and Metallic Crayons”. We had so much fun doing it last time that we’ll be doing it again. The class will be from 11:00 AM to 4:00PM each day. Watch my website for more information. Sign up early by calling the center at 541-296-4759. I’ll be limiting attendance.
Also I have the dates for next year’s Mexico class. It will be held April 13th through 19th, 2011, in Melaque, Mexico. In 2011 we’ll be arriving and leaving in the middle of the week. This will save on airfare. More information will be available later. If you’re interested in being kept up to date just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.