The Helsinki Bus Station: let me describe what happens there.
Some two-dozen platforms are laid out in a square at the heart of the city. At the head of each platform is a sign posting the numbers of the buses that leave from that particular platform. The bus numbers might read as follows: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Each bus takes the same route out of the city for a least a kilometer stopping at bus stop intervals along the way where the same numbers are again repeated: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer, meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity.
Ok, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21.
You take those three years of work on the nude to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on.
Shocked, you realize that what you have been doing for three years others have already done.
So you hop off the bus, grab a cab (because life is short) and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform.
This time you are going to make 8×10 view camera color snapshots of people lying on the beach from a cherry picker crane.
You spend three years at it and three grand and produce a series of works that illicit the same comment: haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black and white 8×10 camera view of palm trees swaying off a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann?
So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.
What to do?
It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.
Michael Craig-Martin’s book titled ‘On being an artist’ is a collection of thoughts and notes that Michael has written and collected over the years. The book presents an interesting and insightful account of aspects of an artist’s life, the central themes of Michael’s work and the way he sees the contemporary art world. The book covers Michael’s experiences that he has gained as an art tutor at Goldsmiths, teaching, Damian Hirst, Julian Opie and Gary Hume and as a successful international artist.
In the book, there are 151 texts written in an informal and sincere style. They are easy to understand and read, ranging from chapter titles such as, ‘On advice for aspiring artist,’ to ‘On British attitudes to contemporary art.’ The personal account and practice information is for art students as well as professional artists. I am sure the book would also be interesting and engaging read for anyone who interested in creativity and the daily thoughts and practice of an artist.
Michael’s clear and concise explanation of conceptual art through discussing, “An Oak Tree” (1973) one of the many interesting parts of the book. The artwork creates a suspension of disbelief and highlights how conceptual art doesn’t exist in the object itself but in the mind of the viewer. ‘An oak tree’ is a mental concept like all conceptual art that becomes a trigger to encourage contemplation. The work highlights how art is a place inside your head where you can go, on your own and process the world and it’s complexities.
I enjoyed the clear and concise ideas, and concepts explained in a friendly and helpful manner. It interesting to hear about the highs and lows of being a successful international artist and the difficult and challenging journey of finding your own path. I would highly recommend it for any aspiring artist. Michael is certainly honest, and I found that very refreshing, “I would never advise anyone to become an artist. If you have another option, take it.”
I have an inherent need to communicate and express something. I am constantly looking for a new way to read the world to understand the physicality of forms. I see my practice as an exercise of being a painter/curator of moments of our lives; reclaiming a more agreeable melody, restoring, reordering and decluttering to focus on what is truly important.
By focusing on the space and the possibilities of structure and composition, I hope to emphasise the beauty and harmony from the chaos in the city, to invoke a new reading of its noise, movement and pattern. By revealing things through a slow open process, my work uncovers the importance of the positive and negative space. Where rhythm, colour and form play off each other, and each shape takes it configuration and meaning from the next, as a metaphor for the qualities of a seductive poem or an intriguing piece of music.
There is truth in the paintings as I try to deal with the present tense and how these ephemeral junctures were for me. A situation and context where discoveries and revelations happen. There is a layered time as I grapple with evidence of awkward moments, aspects of failure and changes of direction. Leaving the physical traces of responding to mistakes, that relate to intrinsic qualities of being human.
When I arrive at my studio for a day of creativity, I always feel like I have lots going on in my head, lots of external noise in my life that also needs processing. I have personal errands, from checking my bank account, paying bills, checking and responding to emails, following up on loose ends, researching things of interest on the internet plus personal messaging and social media messages. If I walk through the door and allow myself to have unplanned time; a cup of tea, put some background music on and wait for a great wave of creativity to come; it never does. So, I have come to realise this is a very ineffective way to start my studio time, and if I am not careful, I will be waiting all day and possibly all my life for a lightning bolt of creativity to hit me.
Over the years I have read and researched ways to be more productivity. I have learnt a lot about self-control but I still think I have a lot to learn, however, I am getting there…slowly. I still have lapses of unplanned time, but I continually look to make improvements. For example, I am currently reading, “Daily Rituals: How artist’s work” by Mason Currey, which so far is a fascinating and helpful book. Once I have finished reading this book, I hope to establish a daily routine/ritual that will work for me. I plan to write about my routine here shortly.
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Please comment below about your thoughts and experiences related to this post, ‘An artist’s complicated journey of generating ideas and new work’
A space to play, where anything is possible is such an important place for a creative person. Having a space to go to and process the world and its complexities is extremely valuable and I feel very lucky to have the freedom around my full-time job and family life.
There is something very special about making work with just a few strokes with an open mind in an instant. An open mind allows me to be transported to a place where ideas are instinctive, intuitive and spontaneous. Footprints, rings from coffee cups, photocopiers, spills and accidents all have their place in allowing the effortless flow to materialise a vision, while my ego is left aside. This practice session often leaves my thoughts uncovered and on display in their raw state.
These ideas can be explored and refined but at this point the conscious self comes back into the room. The energy and emotions in the preliminary drawings and paintings that came from this outburst of freedom can often be lifted onto another sheet for further refinement, but the open-ended problem creation can often be more prized than the problem solving finished work that follows.
I find that at this point, just after the preliminary studies, I don’t know what I have got. I often find a place to store this work and revisit it at a later time. This time lapse helps me to realise what I have really got. This is when l contemplate the potential and hopefully uncover original ideas. After all, everything has been done before, very little is original. New work is often a shadow or an echo of what the artist has seen or experienced before. This process can also often lead to selecting, editing and reworking, to look for originality by purging the work of any baggage you brought to the studio. The artist’s studio is also a place for destruction, recovery and transformation.
Chuck Close, the New York painter, has this to say, “We often don’t know what we want to do, but we sure as hell know what we don’t want to do. So the choice not to do something is often more important than the choice to do something.”
I find problem creation as a process is much more effective in finding interesting art than a problem-solving approach, Duchamp said: “the artist has only 50% of the responsibility, and that is to get the work out, it is completed by the viewer.”