". . . everybody who has ever done creative work of any kind
knows this moment. You make your plans in terms of what the mind can think of,
and if you hold to those plans you're going to have a dry, dead piece of work.
What you have to do is open out underneath into chaos, and then a new thing
comes, and if you bring your critical faculty down too early, you're going to
There's a beautiful letter that Schiller wrote to a young
author who was having the trouble that's known as writer's block. This young
writer had oh, so much to say, but he couldn't write. This is a normal
situation. Schiller said simply, 'Your problem is that you're bringing the
critical factor into play before you have let the lyric factor work."
--Joseph Campbell, Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine
|La Danse by Matisse, 1909.
Artists are explorers. The "terra
incognita" that artists explore may be a world of ideas or a world of
feeling. Sometimes we just follow a whisper of a notion, a little inner voice
perhaps, or a sudden, powerful inspiration caused by something remarkably
beautiful that we have just seen. Whatever the motivation, there must be
pleasure in the act of creation or we can quickly lose our way. Play can be paramount
to stimulating our artistic pleasure centers. However, the gods of play demand
that we put our rationalizing, self-critical voice in the back seat for a while
if we are to embrace the lyrical in our work. We've all had days when this can
be hard to do. Sometimes, switching away from a comfortable medium or set of
familiar tools can be immensely helpful in inviting play into our work.
think about the most free creative play I have ever enjoyed, I think about the
sandbox. As children we created worlds in sand and just as easily erased them
to start over again. There were no rules, no plans, no investment save our
time, and sand sometimes behaved as if it had a mind of its own. Hours flew by
and whatever masterpieces we had created were cheerfully abandoned at the end
of the day. Today, my sandbox is watercolor painting. No matter what
ideas I may have for the finished picture when I begin, the medium always
demands that I step back and let it do some of the talking. I am always
exploring what watercolor wants to do. Paradoxically, my most satisfying
watercolor paintings required both complete attention and also complete forgetfulness.
Total absorption in the moment leaves little room for critical assessments,
allowing the elusive lyrical to surface. Play at its best.
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