Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Make No Mistakes

In the coming months I may have greater access to an iPad. In anticipation of continuing to work with Brushes, a painting app, I've placed an order for the Nomad Compose, a brush that was developed specifically for touchscreens. I'm imagining a trip where I've got the iPad and Nomad Brush instead of my gallon-size bag of brush markers, glue stick (only Avery Permanent Glue Stic!), and rounded-end scissors. The idea of have my art and writing supplies in a more compact and portable form appeals to me.

Except. I just worked my way through a week in New York and Boston with that gallon-size bag, and as I think about my process, I realize two things that might be different when I go digital: Time and Mistakes. With access to the delete key and the undo button I may inadvertently create problems for myself. Don't like a line? Delete. Want a different shade of purple? Undo. I could spend hours going backwards, trying to create a perfect image.

But I don't want to do that. I like the serendipity and chance learning that happens when I'm working with three-dimensional things. Striving for the perfect digital image may obliterate those opportunities. I'm wondering if the delete key and undo button are actually a source of anxiety for my students. When you make a physical object you can take it apart up to a point, but you can also learn how to problem solve. Artists don't generally debug by painting over; we go through. We accept the mistake; the artwork takes on a life; and we move forward, paving the way for a new resolution.

In writing we have the opportunity to keep revising—which can become obsessive—but at some point we have to call it done. I've talked to other writers who can't leave their work alone. I've woken up thinking about one word that could be changed in something I'm writing and how it would be so much better. Like the art process, the writing can take a turn and you have to figure out how to write yourself out of the corner, but unlike art you can save multiple drafts and submit it only when satisfied. Sometimes in writing you can salvage parts of it and then rewrite the rest. If visual art is too thickly layered or overworked it may turn to mud. (What's that saying? Aim for perfection; accept reality?) Sometimes artistic mistakes are a source of tension; perhaps we should just see them as challenges, stepping stones to the next level.

Years ago, a printmaker friend suggested that everyone ought to make a reduction print at least once in his/her life. (It's kind of like batik; see the cover for She Is the Keeper, below.) If you haven't made one yet, here is the process: draw a picture that has multiple colors. Take a linoleum block or woodblock or white plastic carving block and carve out only what you want to remain white. Ink up the block and print it (my first color was lime green). Now carve away what you want to remain that color. Print on top of the first color (second color: olive green). Repeat carving and printing until you've printed all of your colors (process blue; then reflex blue). If you carve out too much or too little, well, that's it; you'll have to discard the block (delete) or change your design (work through).

She Is the Keeper, 2003

I enjoyed collaging my ephemera in my travel journal (it was a blank book model I made years ago and I'm accepting the mistakes in it). I had a few "mud" pages. But I found a way to use the discarded scraps that satisfied me, something I wouldn't have discovered without the actual objects. I'm thinking that in the future I'll take pictures of the tickets and receipts and bags, add my handwriting, and making digital montages. It is possible I could still learn something new…

From a brochure
From a bag
Drawing and leftovers
From a business card and a placemat


Merry said...

I hadn't thought that the new technology would take away to some degree to the process of creating. Though there is still the process, it's not as evident. What if you tracked changes, like you can in word. Would that add or detract from the process?

Alisa said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this, Merry, and the different angle. I think your phrase, "not as evident" is the key phrase here. For me, it is much easier to discover new ways of working and seeing the world with physical objects right out there on the table.

ronnie said...

I was one of those early adopters of technology (1980s - here in oz that was mighty early!), but I rarely use it for my finished creative work...... when asked why I usually repeat a great line from calligrapher Donald Jackson.... computers 'just aren't wet enough'..... ;~)

Alisa said...

Thanks for repeating it again—that's great, Ronnie!

ersi marina said...

I started using a computer for my art years ago, back in 1997. I was in fractals then, so the computer was my only tool. I also used image-editing programmes a lot for my photographs.

I know there are no good tools and bad tools, just good or bad ways of using them. (Please forgive my good-or-bad, black-or-white terms, I only use them to be briefer.) In my case, there came a point when I just had to go back to traditional, material techniques.

There is more than one peril in going digital. Losing the ability to learn from mistakes and find creative solutions to them, as you point out, is not a minor one. But there is also something very 'aseptic' in the digital media. Detatched from the real world, product-oriented (I believe a work of art is not a product, even if we put it on sale), even alienating to a certain extent.

I know some of my statements can be very controversial but it was my experience and I say it as it is. When I came back to the physical world of art I had to overcome several difficulties, the ones you mention among them. No computer will do the artistic work for us but it may deprive us of the ability to handle reality head-on.

Alisa said...

Thanks Ersi Marina.
The debate keeps the questions coming, which are perhaps even more important than the conclusions.

I like having all these tools available for different purposes-I stress that they are tools—and that we don't actually have to choose one over another, permanently.

Cathy said...

Delete and undo handy but it's not going save a artwork that's not working for you. Have been there a few times with photoshop.