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.
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. A pencil or brush in my hand with an open mind allows me to be transported to a place where ideas are instinctive, intuitive and spontaneous. Accidents from unintended foot prints, rings from coffee cups, photocopiers, spills and accidents all have their place. These studio sessions often leaves my thoughts uncovered and on display in their raw state where my ego is left aside.
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. 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. 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.”
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Thinking about this question has made me think a lot about why I have chosen to be an artist. There are many things why people give up on the dream of being a successful artist. For example, because there is no stability and no regular income. The chance of making it into a household name like Jeff Koons or Damien Hurst are highly unlikely.
Michael Craig-Martin once said, “when you’re 20, there are 50,000 other artists, by the time you’re 30, it’s down to 5,000, by 40, it’s 2,000. If you make it to 70, there are only 12 of you left, and you’re all famous.” As the decades go on many understandably give up and realise it very hard to bring up a family on the small amount of money.
The Guardian wrote an interesting article titled ‘Can you make a living as an artist?’ and is worth a read. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/jul/29/artists-day-job-feature?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
For artists that continue their chances improve and after several decades, when most artists have given up, your chances get better and better.
Another way to look it is, rather than seeing success as money is that I am already complete. I can continue what I love to do, to got the studio and be creativity, and I am already able to bring up a family through my full-time job.
Success for an artist could be seen as, how Coach Wooden the highly successful American basketball player and coach sees it; “Peace of mind, attained only through self-satisfaction when knowing you made the effort to do the best your capable of. Your the only one that knows that. You can fool others but not yourself.”
By viewing it this way I can keep a playfulness in my practice. So for me, success does not lay in being rich or famous or in my artwork but my relationship to my artwork and following a hunch in my work.
I think about the present moment, as my relationship is forever changing with my practice and whether I am doing the best work I can with the resources available. I have the urge to direct my life in they way I want and through my art, I realise this is the area I have to most control in my life. Most other relationships in life like, friends, family and occupations are much more of a compromise.
I also believe I am capable of so much more and I have hardly started. By working on what comes naturally, playing off my strengths, using intention, instinct, thought, imagination, observation and curiosity I can make my work a manifestation of me.
I want to use my intuition to reveal meaning and draw attention to something using my skills as an artist. Possibly, making it a lifetime’s work and into what Alex Katz the american painter calls, ‘the big technique’. As I have a yearning to work towards something that is much bigger than myself and add extra meaning and understanding to what it means to be human on this rock.
Maybe one day a little recognition would be nice though!
There are many reasons why l wanted to be an artist. But the main attraction is the creative process. As an artist l can take an idea or a hunch and using my creativity and skill, which has grown over many years, bring the concept to life. The process of turning an idea from a thought to something of significance takes a set of unique skills mainly involving play and experimenting with what works best. The whole process and journey is a stimulating challenge. Once the idea if finally completed, once l am finally satisfied, it becomes an object and an initiator of further ideas for both myself and the viewer. Completing a project gives me an enormous sense of achievement which even overcomes any of the exhilarating ups and downs along the way.
Karl Marx talked about the problems of consumerism and the alienation of labour. He states that if you are cut off from the fruits of your labour, then you are cut off from your creativity and you lose your sense of self. I think this is one of the main problems with the Western consumeristic society. People are not in touch with the output they make or the completion of the tasks they carry out. I believe this causes many psychological problems with our individual purpose. During the process of making art l get closer to my deeper self, the artwork becomes an extension of me, my purpose stretches out before me. No-one else can make another exactly the same, no-one else has my thoughts.
This is an interesting thought provoking short video on Karl Marz on Alienation and about what makes us human.
Being an artist and being creative connects us directly with being human, and that is the main reason I love being an artist.
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