September 22, 2005
Notes on Making Art
by sven at 11:46 am
I've been influenced by Julia Cameron's "Artist's Way" and also Philip Sylvester at the Drawing Studio -- but I feel like I'm really beginning to get a grip of my own on the creative process and wanted to take some quick notes.
Quality through quantity. Don't get hung up on making this one piece good -- make ten and one will certainly be pretty good.
Do NOT mix generating and editing. When you're making a piece, don't stop and get judgmental half-way through. If it's a piece of crap, get that piece of crap out of your system -- don't try to fix it mid-flow. Finish it, move on.
When to judge: After you've completed a piece, look at it and decide what direction you want to go in next. Or if you're selecting pieces for submission to a show, apply your critiquing mind then. Make a piece of art; look at it; make another.
Don't be afraid to re-use elements. If each piece has to be unique, then you're going to get hung-up when you create some bit that you like. But if you can re-use bits, then you can keep moving.
How to have "lots of ideas": permute. Start anywhere. Once a piece is done, try varying some aspect. Think of all the variables that could have permutations.
"Get through your first 50 failures as fast as you can." I don't think that we should be shooting for a place where we no longer make crappy art. A good artist is one who's in motion making lots of art -- you only think they're so much better because they produce so much quantity that their pile of "good art" has also been able to accumulate. For every piece of crap you create, you're one step closer to getting something you really like.
Don't even bother "fixing" pieces. Making art shouldn't be a struggle. You're simply "thinking out loud" onto the page, photo-paper, or canvas. If a product seems confused, leave it confused. Make another piece where you contemplate whatever issues you were wrestling with. Try something different. When clarity arrives, it will come in one living piece -- not be Frankensteined together out of a single infinitely re-worked, mangled corpse.
Work fast. Creativity is exciting. If you're not judging while you're making, then you can just throw things together as fast as your mind can move. You're smart; if you don't like what you've made, you'll know immediately. You might not know what to do about the problem you perceive... Don't "think", standing there cogitating -- try things. If your hands are in motion, you can be generating new permutations. The one that you want to pick will come out on its own time.
Let your level show. Let the world know that despite having years of investment in your art form, you're still a beginner who doesn't know it all. Rather than hide your thought process, let your questions be present in your work. You are a fundamentally more interesting artist if people get to see what it is that you're struggling with, rather than just your final answers. Show your work. Talk about what you still can't understand (unapologetically).
Don't hide your failures. If you are only willing to show those perfect pieces that you are aspiring towards, you're never going to display / publish your work. Show everything, the worst of the crap included, and let your ego be humbled -- and goaded to create more.
Interesting thesis. I might add that creativity is challenged when you are expressly creating work that you know (assume) will be for an audience. It leads to excessive self-editing, which any blogger (and probably Sven, with his movie) can tell you. I don't know your feelings on this, but I would add "create as if you are the audience", I mean, if the goal is a final expression of your creative vision. Nothing is perfect. How many times has George Lucas re-edited Star Wars?
Posted by: Markalope at September 22, 2005 1:46 PM
To maximize your comments, I say this: Merlin Mann hath perused thy musings, and doth consider them, in his words, "pretty cool." Go thou and . . . um, whatever.
Posted by: Carl Caputo at September 22, 2005 4:29 PM
Been thinking these same thoughts for a long time. Thanks for writing em down.
Posted by: Aaron at September 23, 2005 9:21 AM
Interesting list. While I don't agree on everything it's still good text that can help people get more things done.
Posted by: Daniel Schildt at September 23, 2005 11:14 AM
As a physicist, I replaced every occurrence of "art" with "science" and it still makes perfect sense! Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom.
Posted by: Serkan Cabi at September 23, 2005 3:38 PM
Oh, I like that! --Replacing the "art" with "science"...
Besides doing visual arts (painting, sculpture, digital animation) I also write non-fiction essays about political theory. For me, this workflow has worked equally well for both sorts of creativities. You make me wonder what other arenas it's suited to?
(Thanks for the comments, everyone!)
Posted by: sven at September 23, 2005 4:18 PM
For folks coming in off the 43 folders link, I just put up two new posts with photos of recent art... So you can see what kind of art I'm actually making using this workflow: sketchbook collages and "witch" sculpture.
Posted by: sven at September 23, 2005 9:39 PM
What a great list...
It's a real inspiration and encouragement.
Posted by: Sherwin at September 24, 2005 7:57 AM
This was just what I needed to hear this morning. Thanks!
Posted by: Susan at September 26, 2005 11:45 AM
While I think there are lots of excellent ideas here, for my own creative process I find points one and two a little dismissive of possibilities. I've often worked an idea that I felt had potential until it flowered, even if it was hard going for a while. That is to say, I work through the feeling that it might be a dud and find a direction in it that delivers something positive. Likewise, in my work as a writer, a blogger, a musician and an image maker, I find that the generation/editing process is not as distinct as you might think. Especially in these days of computer assisted creation. I hardly ever rush through to the end of a generative process and then begin an 'editing' process. I find that I sculpt the whole thing much more holistically than that. It's not for me to judge whether the quality and effectiveness of my work is enhanced by that, but I enjoy the process so much that it feels intuitively right to work this way.
A great post though, and the seed of deep discussion.
Posted by: anaglyph at September 28, 2005 2:01 AM
Good points. :-)
(1) I think I know what you mean about pursuing a direction that feels like it has potential, even though it's rough going, even though it looks like a dud at first. ...I certainly don't mean to dissuade anyone from a passionate wrestle with their material!
My intended emphasis here is on how to not get "hung up". Suppose you've got the artistic equivalent of "writer's block"; sometimes you can overcome the fear of making things that aren't "good enough" by deliberately making things that you'd consider "throw away". Little experiments are to be valued. Keep them, catalog them! They often add up to finding the direction you're looking for (forgive the mixed metaphor) -- and the quick turn-around makes the art process more fun.
...I think that making art is most fun when you can feel some element of spontaneity, like you're being led by a logic internal to the piece, rather than trying to force it into existence, kicking and screaming.
(2) I think you're quite right that the generation and editing processes aren't totally separate... "Do NOT mix generating and editing" is a precious idea to me because I still remember all these essays I tried to write in college, where I would sit staring at a single sentence or paragraph for a whole hour, trying to get it just right -- when really I hadn't even fleshed out my thinking yet.
At least with regards to essays, I think I've become a better writer by telling myself "for every ten essays you write, only one will be worth editing." It's an overstatement -- but not every draft holds together well enough to even merit restructuring and tweaking.
Editing, though -- I confess that's my own weak point. Part of me just doesn't want to do it. Probably because of all that residual pain from college! One of my current internal discussions is about how to make editing seem more like the fun "generating" part of the process. I'm interested in seeing if a metaphor of editing-as-collaging holds up. And I'm trying to tell myself that a revised draft doesn't have to be a final product -- it could stand on it's own, as valid and valuable as the rough draft that came before it.
(3) I like your use of the word "sculpt" ("I find that I sculpt the whole thing much more holistically"). Within a sculpture metaphor, I guess what I'm advocating is this: if you're intimidated by casting in bronze, notice that the master sculptors tend to make hundreds of quick and dirty clay studies before they commit.
...Thanks for the rich response!
Posted by: sven at September 28, 2005 2:53 PM
What irritates me the most is all of those creative ideas I've had floating around in my head for paintings or sculptures or mixed media etc.... that I didn't even allow onto paper (except for the few lucky ones). I find myself bottling up my creativity because my situation doesn't allow for the time to create like I used to (ie; 3 young kids). The few times I let myself go and create were so thrilling and so exciting. I am considering your comments on being more spontaneous with my art and not so hung up on spending hours on just one piece to make it "perfect". The process is the contagious part of it all and the part that brings me back time after time. With excited anticipation, Michelle
Posted by: michelle Billionis at October 1, 2005 11:27 PM
comments now closed to keep the eeeeeevil spambots away
Posted by: gl. at January 25, 2006 2:48 PM