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Exploring the Lyrical

21 Jul 2014

". . . 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 kill it.

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.
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.

When I 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.

Join us on The Artist's Road for more informative and interesting articles. The Artist's Road Store has unique items for the traveling artist. 

--John & Ann


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