Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Mystery & Desire of the Creative Process

I participated in an event with a friend to discuss artist books. A woman in the audience spoke passionately about my friend's work. She wanted to cut it open, dissolve it, see what was inside. She had a desire to find out where it began. Like archeology, she said. That desire was precisely what drew her to the work, what caused her engagement with it.

When I mentioned this to another friend, he said he understood the desire. The piece looked like a geode. It was made from a book but its contents were locked forever. Cutting it open would show just how much book was in there. But why not say the piece contained two small artifacts and a tiny book of poetry in the center? (It did not.) No one would ever know. He thought he would like to see the art together with a copy of the book from which it was made. The viewer could then flip through the book to absorb the contents (and decide just how relevant or useful it was as a book), then look at the art. Back and forth. Here's a word. I see where it came from. The viewer would now know what my artist friend knew. I like the idea of a piece having a discussion with its origins. But I had another thought.

I wondered if the questions of how and where the work started were really what the viewer wanted to know. Would she be satisfied with a  set of time-lapse photographs detailing the making, step-by-step? I believe, instead, what she really wanted to do was to get at the mystery of the creative process, which is an unsolvable mystery. Artists don't really know where the first spark comes from or just how the work evolves. The creative process is mysterious, which is part of the thrill of creating and of viewing a thing created. I can think of two results of dissecting, halving, or dissolving the work: 1) the woman could lose interest in the art once she lost all desire to excavate it or 2) she could reconstitute it and create yet another form (discarded book to papier mache rock to ??) which might ultimately contribute to, as Dean Young writes in The Art of Recklessness, "an endless procession of quote marks" (31-32).

I don't think we can examine art too deeply without removing its charge. Over-analyzing something tends to kill its liveliness. "Desire vanishes at the point of capture…" (21) writes Young. Mystery laid bare is not mysterious anymore. What was curious is no longer a curiosity. It deflates. "Anything fully known offers us no site of entry, no site of escape, no site of desire" (85). It seems to me that my friend's piece was successful. Although it may not have been in the manner that she had intended, by embracing that mystery of creative process and making the work, she stirred a longing in the heart and mind of another human being.

Lisa Kokin: Mars and Venus In Touch, 2008


Lisa Kokin said...

As the creator of the mysterious rock-like piece, I love what you wrote. I was puzzled at the time by the desire to see the inner contents and/or the original book. I prefer the mystery and also the trapping of the contents of the book inside, especially when the book(s) are self-help books. I agree with you about over-analyzing art. It's okay to wonder. In this Age of Googling, all knowledge is available at our fingertips, thereby rendering wondering a lost art. I aim to promote the act of wonder in whatever way I can.

Linda said...

Hi Alisa,
Your words struck a cord in me: “Although it may not have been in the manner that she (the artist) had intended, by embracing that mystery of creative process and making the work, she stirred a longing in the heart and mind of another human being.”

Sometimes friends would ask me to help them re-design the rooms of their homes, want to know where to put paint colors they liked, or arrange collections of objects or art they weren’t sure how to arrange or group. Sometimes I could help them work through the design, layout, and color selections, and explain exactly how I came up with the ideas. On the other hand when I helped them arrange things, for instance, a collection of African masks and spears, I would have to look at the objects and explain to my friends that I may not be able to tell them how or why I came up with the arrangement. I would go on to say that is because sometimes the objects themselves tell me what to do and that is difficult to explain.

That is also a little like having someone wanting to watch me as I play and experiment with the materials of my art. Not only can I NOT explain what I am doing, I can’t do it with them possibly trying to dissect the creative dialogue/process I am having with the materials. There are times when an artist must truly do that alone. Yet they are not alone in a sense. The artist and the materials and the third thing: the alchemy of creation/flow. It doesn’t have to lead to a successful piece of art, but when I am feeling it there is a different form of language, music, communication going on. And there is timelessness.

Workshops and classes with other artists are a bit different. It is more like parallel play. And sometimes it is cooperative play. There is a community dialogue of inspiration and reflection. But even in those cases an artist will return to his work to have that singular dialogue in their secret language with the art work they are creating.

So many words to try to describe the mystery of the process and products of art making. I enjoy art that I can look at over and over and still see more. I also enjoy art that I can connect with that makes me want to learn more, more about the artist and more about the inspiration behind the work. One thing leads to another and I think I will have a better understanding of the artist/artwork. But I will really never know. Nor do I have to in order to receive pleasure and wonder from the work. I guess I like being stirred up as an artist and a viewer of art.

Linda Race

ersi marina said...

I am slowly going through your blog and it is as enjoyable as your printed books. This particular entry I read twice. I do so agree that the mystery is what captivates us! A dissected work of art is like a broken toy. Once the child knows how it was made they just forget about it. It must be the child in us that feels the urge to break up a work of art into understandable pieces. But the mysterious, incomprehensible object has an additional advantage: it sets us free to imagine and interpret, in fact, to complete it in our own personal way and become creators of meaning and content ourselves.