How many times have you tried to paint or write in a style you so admire, only to discover it just doesn’t happen for you the way you intended it? That the outcome is different from how you imagined it in your mind’s eye? Do you yearn to write with the insight and talent of an Ian McEwan, hailed by The Times here in the UK as one of the 50 greatest writers since 1945, or paint abstracts of nature like Georgia O’ Keeffe, the definitive mother of American Modernism? It’s not that you want to copy, it’s just that what and how they write and what and how they paint is exactly what you so appreciate personally, and can be what you are drawn to creatively. But what happens if or when you try?
I was talking to an artist friend the other day about this, in the sense of having a creative outcome in your mind as you begin a new painting or story, only to discover it ends up going in a different direction in style or content respectively. Creating is an act which has to be open to the magical, where we have to allow the Muses to do their work through us. Now, I used to deny this metaphysical aspect, I thought it was a little overblown and elitist sounding. I would tell myself it’s not about muses it’s about craft and application. But I do know better these days. There is indeed a mysterious channelling involved which is best to leave be and allow to flow through you, rather than halt it and inspect it to check if it’s going exactly where you want it to. It’s a process of discovery, and this is why it doesn’t always go in the way you expect, because something else is going on, something which overrides any left-brained logical dictates.
My friend and I both acknowledged to each other that having tried to do completely abstract paintings, avoiding the recognisable altogether, just to see if we are capable of it, that we found we were lacking in our aim. We’ve been painting a long time and get curious now and again, because with any art you are always learning and developing, so it’s natural enough to want to experiment. I love line, and line tends to take you away from more esoteric paintwork because lines end up defining. My friend enjoys symbolism, but to do so she tends to want to use recognisable elements to evoke a narrative. I also love detail, and that takes you away from abstraction, so despite best intentions, I go with my own flow and it takes me well away from abstraction. With writing, I love reading the psychological inner life of the characters, but I cannot convey this in my own writing with the in-depth intricacy I so admire in some literary fiction writers – I end up been plainer, more to the point. So what’s going on?
Now I have come across one or two artists who are very capable in one direction or style, let’s say detailed representation, but they disdain it as a viewer of it. It’s too literal, too ‘photographic’ for them. They prefer a more abstract style, so they turn away from their own painting abilities – they reject what they can do because of what they can’t. The same can happen the other way around, some excellent abstract artists don’t appreciate what they themselves can do, they want to do detail instead, and declare they’re useless at it. In other words, in both cases, their vision of what they want to be able to do in their mind’s eye is at odds with what they can actually produce. And sometimes they give up art altogether because of this, which I feel is sad and such a waste. The same goes for writers. Think of genre writing. There’s no way I could write romance or horror, so if these were my passions, and all I wanted to write, then I’d have to give it up.
All this leads me to that fact that we ourselves as individuals are predisposed to certain approaches according to out very nature. What happens when I’m trying to do an abstract, is that an aspect of my personality kicks in which will not let me be ‘vague’ in my brushwork. I’m always seeking form, so I find myself incorporating it. My right-brained impulses take over, and when my critical left brain catches up, saying ‘For crying out loud, here you go with edges again!’ its kind of too late and by that stage I don’t care, I’m in my groove. The same goes for my writing, I need to get a certain message across, and can’t allow myself to take too many circuitous routes and detours of exploration to get there (I hope ;>)) I have to get to the point.
I remember when I had to write essay assignments for my degree as a mature student, I found myself gathering all the research, reading references and my own ideas into a detailed mind map, then slowly, I would build up the essay from there, exactly like I do with my painting. When I realised the similarity, it was a bit of a light bulb moment. In my essay and in my paintings any creative flourishes or original ideas went in only when the groundwork was already prepared – be that the structure of the essay, and what was going to be in it and what was required, or the initial pencil drawing and composition for the painting to proceed from there.
But returning to creative vision and product, this topic also has some relevance when we think about what is currently trending in the creative world. What is most successful? What is selling the most? What writing genres? What painting styles? Do they coincide with what you produce or not? And if not, do you decide to twist yourself to fit or to bang yourself about to squeeze your rounded irregular shape into a square peg?
No. I think this can lead to a form of hell, where we lose our originality and stain our work with derivatives and painful self-compromise, which can lead to a great deal of ugly personal conflict. We have to create according to our own nature, a simple rule to remember whenever we stray into the dangerous territory of comparing ourselves with others. Do that at your peril. Your particular art is your life, not someone else’s. You do your art, your way, and don’t let anything, anyone, or your own self doubts get in the way of that. Your creative life is too important to sacrifice itself on the altar of comparison with others or trying to fit the current market.
And regarding not knowing the outcome of your creative vision, you should create like you’re driving at night by your own nature where, as E. L. Doctorow, American writer and professor, said, ‘You can only see as far as your headlights let you, but you can make the whole trip that way’ . And the risks and challenges on that trip that come from the creative unknown may make it a far more exciting and challenging journey, where you might end up somewhere you hadn’t at all envisaged, but which might be a far more interesting place, with a far more compelling and unique creative outcome. So give yourself permission to enter your creative trance and see where your very own nature takes you.
(pictures courtesy of pixabay)