I have a good friend that is known for stunningly simple observations. And they are stunning because he knows so little factual information about me, but now twice in our ten year friendship he has managed pull the camera back on whatever emotional hairball I’m choking on and make me feel, well, like an asshole. But in a good way.
So I’m blabbing on and on to him about my work, my love life, my fleeting sanity, and he stops me cold and asks me “Whens the last time you wrote anything that wasn’t work related?”
Thank you Tim, this is for you, for “the palest ink is better than the best memory”.
Tranquility By French Toast Girl
Being creative can be fun. Mostly its fun. Sometimes its not so fun. Sometimes its really really not so fun. I love being creative for myself, but its a lot harder than being creative for others, or with others. I love collaboration, working with teams to develop their ideas, push things forward and concretize something that seems imaginary. Its hard to know where the lines between creativity and what the DSM V-whatever would call “grandiose thoughts”. My ability to take an idea and make it real is what I do for a living, or at least what I want to do. But I’ve been pondering a lot on when ideas should be saved, pitched in the garbagio (as my Dad puts it) or when they should be pulled out of the can, flattened out and revisited.
Before I get existential with my point (and bc Im ADD I’m already there and waiting for my fingers to catch up), I had a recent experience that made tonight’s episode of Mad Men so personal for me. Go ahead, roll your eyes, tell me “its just a show”. That was sort of the point of tonight’s ep, is this just a show? Where you see a show, do I see art? Do we all see the same color blue as Ms. Farrells student asked in art class. Where someone sees a sidewalk, another sees a canvas.
Street art by Julian Beever & Kurt Wenner
In my studio, I’ve taken to saving a lot of “messups” rather than tossing them out, believing that maybe something good will come out of them, that there are no mistakes. Since my first show last January at Touchstone, I’ve had the pieces I made rolled up, somewhat embarrassed because I wasn’t really sure what they were when I even made them. I had painted them purely out of fun, out of a love of color and because when I saw the paper in the art store, I knew what I wanted to do with them-even if it made no sense at the time.
So I painted up a storm. The creative muses partied with me down in my studio, my first studio I’ve ever had in my house 0r ever, and I had a ball. I had no idea what I was making or what to do with these crumpled pieces of paper that I threw paint all over. Each one came out better than the next, but slowly, the muses left and I was left wondering what the hell I had made. Then the show came along, I figured I would show the pieces, thinking maybe someone else knew what they were. I was painting for me, for my own enjoyment, even if it made no sense, even if no one else “saw it” and thats what I felt like showing.
I’ve written about this show before, the show itself being an experience I’ve tried to derive meaning from in addition to the work. Thats why I wasn’t figuring it out though, I was trying too hard. Surprise, surprise.
So the work sat in my studio until one day randomly when I felt like playing with them. My fickle friends, the muses, back just for a carefree afternoon. I had struggled to make the pieces more than just flat paper on a wall for the show and pretty much failed. But when I was loose that day, I started pinning them to the wall the way they had been in my head, visually trying to confuse the viewer about whether they were sculpted pieces of metal or if they were cloths hanging on a wall, maybe that had been used to rub paint off another canvas.
Okay okay, so I’m getting lost here in my own processes, but the point is that after that burst where I thought I finally knew how to hang the pieces (my room is a bit of a shrine to that epiphany), I was still beating myself up for not know WHAT they were. What was I looking at? What were these things?
So I’ve been doing a lot of portraits in the meantime. Portrait sketches are very gratifying, when I’m done I see something, I know its a person, even if I dont get it exactly right. But even those, sometimes are illusive, as the subject sometimes remains illusively out of the grasp of pencil and paper. Something about the person doesn’t get captured, a missing little glint, one subject of mine in particular has managed to ellude me now four times. And so I get to my point.
So a year has passed since I began working on the pieces in question. I now knew how to hang them, but so what.
“Sew buttons”, as the subject I reference above always says (a man who is blessed with incredible comic timing). Which is fitting because I attended a gallery opening for Japanese fashion designers on Friday at the Textile Museum in NW. The fashion was fun, but one room in the gallery lit me on fire. I felt completely out of place at the opening, everyone wearing some cool art they had made, one white guy in a kimono even, and me in my Ann Taylor.
Coinciding with the fashion exhibit was a collection of large pieces of fabric. In some cases yards of beautifully patterned fabric, that was mind-bogglingly hand woven. It sounds totally obtuse and ignorant, but it was textiles I had made and it turns out textiles are friggin art.
The large pieces I had made a year ago were art after all! Whoo hoo! Holy crap, a year frickin later and I finally figure out what the hell I’ve been looking at for so long. And I didn’t figure it out by staring or searching or asking people, the answer found me. Some people at my show a year ago told me my work was art and I didn’t believe it, they saw something I really didnt, and it was my work. Jeez.
As I said, making things real is part of my job with clients. I help make their fantasies real, or I help them tell their stories, but I had forgotten the simplest rule of creativity “stay loose, it’ll come.” I needed to take a break from work to enjoy my own ride. To write for myself and relax. The glint I keep missing in Mr. Sew Button’s portrait will come to me, just like the tapestries I painted. So tonight’s episode of Mad Men was all about that, the things we stare at (Don’s locked drawer, Kinsey and the Western Union ad) that just won’t open up to us when we want, but then mundane tasks, doing a load of laundry, attending some random event, and WHAM the sidewalk suddenly becomes a canvas.