Normally, I pull one card from the deck of my ‘Creative Whack Pack’ and write about it once a month. But today I’m using two cards which I think are closely related. They are “Don’t Fall in Love With Ideas” and “Have Something at Stake”.
I believe one of the reasons I was successful in process improvements in my corporate career was that I didn’t fall in love with the idea that what had been working was the best option. Each time I worked on improving a process my reputation, not to mention potential chaos and loss of money, was at stake. As artists we are in a constant state of idea generation whether we realize it or not. We look at a hillside in spring and notice all the nuances of green and think of ways to re-create those colors. We don’t have the money to buy canvases so we come up other surfaces on which to paint. And we always have something at stake.
We breathe our souls into our work and, in doing so, see them as extensions of ourselves. If someone doesn’t like our work it can feel like a judgment on who we are as much as what we have created. The card ‘Have Something At Stake’ recounts a frozen-fish processor’s dilemma with a new line of frozen fish tasting “flat”. After many attempts to solve the problem “…someone suggested [that they] put a predator in [their holding tanks].” Because the fish kept moving they “retained their vitality” which apparently kept them tasting ‘fresh’ even after freezing.
The card also includes this, “moral: have something at stake – survival, self-esteem, money, reputation – so that you’ll be motivated to make your idea successful”. As I stated above, I believe artists always have something at stake. Often that keeps us from making changes or attempting new approaches to our work. The other whack card states, “If you fall in love with an idea, you won’t see the merits of alternative approaches – and will probably miss an opportunity or two. One of life’s great pleasures is letting go of a previously cherished idea. Then you’re free to look for new ones.”
I have many examples, both in my personal life and my artwork, that I could relate here but I’m going to focus on just a couple. In the limited training I received I had been conditioned to use a picture or a group of items to create a painting. While going through a turbulent personal phase a friend suggested I throw that aside and just start applying paint and see what happened. You can see the results of that endeavor in ‘The Growing Girls Series’. Two outcomes emanated from that experiment.
One was the use of non-traditional surfaces for my work. Since I was highly uncertain of the outcome, I used mat board rather than a regular canvas for the first of my “Growing Girls”. Later I began to use glass pieces and expanded the ‘letting go’ concept into combining colors on them in a random pattern, using a process I had never attempted. I was very pleased with the early results, “First Green is Gold”, “River Kisses”, and “Moonlight on Roses” and moved on to a larger piece. This time I decided to use something to give the work more texture and approached it as a mixed media piece.
I had long ago stopped wearing a wrist watch not because, as Mitch Hedberg once joked, “… I want[ed] my arms to weigh the same.”, but because I used my cell phone as my clock. So I had three or four watches taking up space in a drawer I knew I would never wear again and which had no sentimental value. (The only one I kept was my first watch that was a present for my 9th birthday.) I began taking the watches apart – bands, dials, and covers – and pressing them firmly into the wet acrylic paint of the new piece. The result was, “Hello Dali”, cleverly titled by my husband, Jim Booth.
I was hesitant to share these pieces because they were such strong departures from my ‘normal’ work. The ‘Growing Girls’ series, so named because every time I created one a face(s) ‘showed up’ in the work, led to more experimentation. The glass pieces were even further afield from my ‘typical’ work as they were based solely on my use of color combinations.
In two weeks, “Hello Dali” and “Mrs. Modigliani” will be part of a juried show that includes, from my perspective, several intimidatingly talented artists’ work. If I had continued to stay on the ‘safe’ path of my representational, if often impressionistic art, these pieces and many others would have remained unearthed. If I had remained solely ‘in love’ with the idea of the ‘Growing Girls’ as my expressionistic work I would not have given the glass pieces a try. And had I remained constrained to the idea of color combinations only, my mixed media pieces on glass, “Hello Dali” and “Dark Notes – Doc Watson”, would never have emerged. I’ve even completed paintings on glass some of which have turned out to be ‘growing girls‘.
So I’ll close by posing to you the questions that these two cards ask. “What do you have at stake?” “What part of your idea are you in love with?” To paraphrase an old adage, you never really know what you can do until you have something at stake and/or kiss an idea you love goodbye.