Five Things you need to know about Creativity and Art making


Tada! The insights of almost two decades of experience condensed for you. Now start making art already.

Five Things that you need to know about Creativity and Art Making


1. Muses: Rare visitors…

Inspiration rarely comes sweeping in on the north wind, ready to lead you, deliriously, down the road of effortlessness. Before effort though, comes the ability to engage: Even when there’s nothing particular moving you to create something, just playing with the materials without a goal in mind often sets off a chain reaction of ideas and yes, inspiration. Doodle, smear, dab, experiment, cut, roll, paste at random and trust that making art has nothing to do with thinking hard. Should you be aiming to become a professional artist, working hard, on the other hand, should be a daily mantra.

Tip: Borrow a toddler if you’re struggling with making a mess and having fun 🙂

2. Failure: The f-word

If you were, like me, brought up with rigid rules about right and wrong, and wasting things (parents of the war generation…), you might approach art making with fear and trepidation: What if I get it wrong, wasting time and valuable resources? The deeply held beliefs of judging our efforts according to failure or success have been contested by many famous people who created new ideas and inventions. It was precisely through their many failures that they found their way to achievement. Letting so-called failure demotivate you- and it is only your perception which sees it as such- instead of seeing useful stepping stones on the road to success holds us all back from expressing ourselves freely.

Tip: Embrace your mistakes. Be a kind, generous parent to your creativity.

3. Failure part 2: The pauses make the music

If it doesn’t feel right, take a break. Take a step or ten back. Look and listen. Oprah even said it- “..doubt means don’t. Don’t move. Don’t answer. Don’t rush forward” Part of the incredible adventure that is art making is the frequent experience of present moment awareness- if you can tune in to the oft-mentioned flow or zone while creating, you will be able to feel when you’re in need of changing direction. I used to get so obsessed with finding solutions I would ignore those feelings and work myself into a dead end, winding up with negative feelings of irritation, of judging myself as having “failed”. Some days are just not going to make it- accept that perhaps you should rather be weeding the garden, phoning a friend, or taking the dog for a walk. All of which are also creative acts, or beneficial to creativity, by the way.

Tip: Don’t flog a faltering creation.

4. Learning: if the student is ready…

There’s no rule that says you must go to art school. Many good artists, pro or not, never paid for tuition. Learning about techniques, mediums, and art history can happen between you and your buddy Google; plus you will get a diversity of information that a single teacher could not possibly provide.

          That said, finding-or being found by – a fantastic teacher can influence your artistic course significantly. Face to face feedback and exchange can be an important, perhaps vital, experience, if the person doing the teaching aims to provide a supportive, patient, and stimulating environment. My discovery of art certainly lay in the hands of my fun, funky and irreverent art teacher in high school. Thanks again, Mrs D’Unienville.

Tip: Find, explore, adapt, develop and trust ways that work for you, ignore the rest.

5. Growth: The importance of past and present creative community

No artist is an island. Broadening your experience of the world, and creativity specifically, by treating it as a community can only inspire and open your mind to a spectrum of possibilities. My connections with poets, photographers, writers, cooks, gardeners, moms, activists, and travellers on the web are not random interactions but fertile exchanges. This also applies to the history of art making, which never ceases to fascinate me, with its myriad of intriguing characters and astounding accomplishments. To quote John of Salisbury, 1159: “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” That about sums up what the past can effect for the present. Thank you Titian, Leonardo, Cezanne, Vincent, Picasso and all the rest!!

                      Share your creations without fear- no-one does it just like you. Hoarding whatever treasures you think are yours to guard from theft or criticism only leads to stagnation and art that does not feel joyful to either the viewer or the creator.

Tip: try blogging, timeline surfing or art instead of pills next time you feel down :))

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Rites of Passage- a journey into darkness

Rites of Passage

‘Rites of Passage’ is an interpretation of my personal experience. The questions that arose from this experience correspond directly to the effects of a dysfunctional society, as well as to the effects of my own dysfunctions.

A Rite of Passage usually denotes a major change in one’s life, tied up with a number of often contrasting and confusing emotions. A certain amount of pain and discomfort is an inevitable part of the process of maturation and growth, and the official opinion seems to be that we can, under normal conditions, cope with and assimilate such growing pains. But just exactly what constitutes normal conditions?

I believe that the line between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ is blurred at best and indistinguishable at worst, as each individual experiences emotion differently.

What is traumatic for one person might be less so for another.

Yet there is an unspoken consensus that when trauma exists, coping and assimilating becomes either a lifelong task or a permanent wound in the psyche.

Victims of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are forced to undergo a distorted Rite of Passage, and in the case of children usually long before it would have occurred ‘naturally’. The damaging effects of such trauma are indisputable. What I am querying is our responsibility, or lack thereof, as individuals and a society, towards such children: Should they be helped, can they be helped, will they be helped?

Is their premature loss of childhood innocence a hurt that will never be healed no matter how many well-meaning sponsors get involved? Are the wounds of life there for a purpose, and must therefore be endured?

Are the perpetrators of abuse merely victims of their own unresolved trauma? At which point in the cycle should the need for accountability arise?

Do you hold yourself accountable for your own dysfunctional actions?

The monstrosity of what human beings are capable of is not something I can or want to judge. I can only observe the ongoing negation of each and every one of the ideals that supposedly elevate us to an “advanced” level of evolution. The distortion and abuse that revered ideal such as ‘love’ ‘respect’ ‘truth’ ‘goodness’ etc. suffer from, as evident in the massive occurrence of abuse, murder, rape, theft, corruption, and divorce, suggests rather that humanity, despite its delusion of advancement throughout the ages, still prefers to adapt these ideals to its behaviour  rather than its behaviour to the pursuit of ideals.

 

Excerpt from a review of the exhibition by John Sampson:

The Silke Berens exhibition, “Rites of Passage” at the Omba Gallery is a disturbing show. The title is an immediate hint that this is not your run-of-the-mill themed showing of pleasant works. The theme of this exhibition is quite the opposite, dealing as it does with child-abuse, not a popular area of focus.

But artists are not immune to the aberrations in society and it behoves them to comment on the ruptures in our moral/ethical structures, and the value systems that should be cultivated in our homes and families. It is precisely in this so-called comfort zone that children are abused, and Silke Berens speaks about this in her work.

Good exhibitions, invariably, speak to one at the visual level, this one does that, but more so, it sits in the throat, because it makes no excuse for its confrontational aspects. Child-abuse must be confronted. Perpetrators must be apprehended. And society requires a cleansing mechanism. An artist working to expose the underbelly of our society does precisely that, but in a manner that draws on more than the psychologist’s intervention.

Images, pictures, are stark reminders of our troubled psyches, whether we want to admit that much or not. And if we do, then we have to accept the gauntlet that has been thrown down.

Berens has been intimately associated with this painful subject, having worked with children, whose futures have been fractured by the monsters that lurk inside many of us. She chooses to bring the issue nearer through the clever use of style, together with a few more approaches that appeal to those with a deep-seated yearning for content at a different level. The style is intentionally childlike. The images of children seem as if drawn by a child. It has the quality of the amateur, and that is by intent, not by accident. One is struck by the fact that the children in the works do not take up bold central positions as forthright confident children living through a happy phase in the process to adulthood. These children are shying away to the edges, to the periphery, trying to avoid. Trying to avoid what? Trying to avoid more of the same. There is an intrinsic knowing that all is not right.

The pictures have been hung much lower than would normally be the case to once again associate the work with the child’s place in the maturation process. And the titles have been chosen to indicate the average height of adults. In the case of the children depicted one wonders whether anything in their adult lives would indeed be average. That would be a start, at least. It is far too simple to speak of a dysfunctional society, when, in fact, it is not society that is so affected, but our families. Society consists of dysfunctional families and individuals, and they are the ones imposed on all of society. And the figures in the Berens works, well….like we hear so often these days; they are seen as collateral damage!  The most vulnerable seem to suffer the most.

The use of colour, or the lack thereof, also speaks of a considerable amount of introspection in planning this portfolio. There is no fun embarking on such works, and any artist doing so, is confronted himself/herself by the stark an inevitable reality of the burden of responsibility. This is evident in the Berens exhibition.  It is a responsibility that rests on both the artist and the viewer.

The format of the works is appropriately small to once again draw attention to the young victims of uncaring and unhinged adults. Anything bigger would have rendered the works impersonal; anything smaller would have made it all disappear. It is when an exhibition of artworks confronts us with the joys and perverseness of society that an artist succeeds as a commentator on society. The gratuitous presentation of aestheticism, at the retinal level, is often, all that a body of work is capable of doing. In this exhibition the artist has

gone beyond the usual expectations and that accounts for this being an admirable body of work at both an aesthetic level and social level. It should be seen by everyone who has the welfare of the child at heart.

john@kerahdah.com.na

The girl with no talent

I’m currently teaching A Girl with No Talent. She’s 18, and for the past six years or more she’s been informed that she has no artistic talent. Yet she has decided that she likes art and wants to take it as an examination subject in her final school year. Moreover, she would like to study architecture.

So I’m coaching a supposedly hopeless case four hours a week, trying to prepare her for her final graduation exhibition which is in about thirteen months. I’m still not sure what made me agree to try and help this girl, because I too, upon seeing some of her previous artwork did not feel at all hopeful- objectively, her drawings were at the level of a ten year old child. My head thought no but my instinct knew better. After years of teaching art, I have seen over and over how patience, encouragement, and deeper psychological insight can make a big difference. How big this difference can be I’m now privileged to witness.

It’s taken us close to three months to get comfortable with one another. I’m relentlessly pushing, demanding her best effort, she’s got learning disabilities and years of damaged self-esteem built up thick around a beautiful dancer’s soul longing for lightness and freedom.  Some days it felt like we were going nowhere fast. She would awkwardly force her lines onto the paper, afraid to make her mark for fear of getting it “wrong”. When I talked about her emotional connection to her art making, and the need to reflect intensely on personal reasons, experiences and attitudes in order to create meaningful artwork, she would look at me as if I was from another planet.

I made her write, compose poems, improvise freely, scribble wildly, stand up, change hands, research, and a dozen other things designed to break the icy spell of  our culture’s unfortunate judgement of superficialities, which turned her into a passive, timid conformist. I made her cry when I told her she wasn’t trying hard enough.

It took one charcoal drawing of a flamenco dancer for me to know that something had shifted. The facial proportions were all wrong, but her marks had a flow and energy to them which finally started to echo this girl’s inner treasures. Her sense of possibility is more than restored, it’s positively blooming.Who are we to judge one another, especially children, as harshly as we do? All it takes is the willingness to listen, to empathise and to affirm the other’s unique inner world.

All I’m doing is helping her to connect her spirit with her hand, and the paper under it. Simple, awe-inspiring magic. No talent required.

Commission blues

It sits on my easel, in shades of blue, and elicits a daily quota of sighs. Some are listless, most are downright depressed.

I swear to myself that one day I will be confident- or successful, does confidence come with success?- enough not to have to endure this horrible exercise in creative frustration. The curved horizon is a problem apparently, but I’m not far enough into the work to be able to give that particular suggestion the middle finger… I feel stifled, controlled, stopped in my flow.

To think I was excited at the start of it- a trade for a painted lounge, a long neglected form of avoiding the pitfalls of a cash oriented society; my hippy alter ego proud and singing songs of peace and liberation.

Until the demands set in. No not like that, more like this, must work with coral red wall etc etc . I’m told by more assertive artists that I should stick to my guns or rather my brushes, and provide a clear message of what you get is what you get- trusting The Artist to get it right without questioning or interference. But hey, I want the client to be happy, and tell his friends, so I’m willing to compromise. There’s always my more serious work to express  my unique genius with, I try to console myself.

Still I rebel against the external censorship.  I wonder if my students feel like this when I comment on their  work.

I should count myself lucky that there’s no urgent deadline to this deal, but on second thought it would force me to make decisions and just get on with it- stoicism can also lead to liberation! Go Wall Street go. I’ll take my cue from you Bravehearts all over the world and march on.

Ah Chuck Close you’re my hero

“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work and the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will, through work, bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never dream up if you were just sitting around looking for a great art idea. And that a belief in that the process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel everyday. Today you know what you will do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday and tomorrow you are going to do what you did today and at least for a certain period of time if you can just work to hang in there, you will get somewhere.”

When art Wakes Up

Last week, after having watched the stirring BBC documentary on Picasso’s Guernica, one of my more intense young men in the Visual Articulation and Drawing course at university (UNAM) had a seeming epiphany. Eyes all fiery with indignation at the injustices committed by man against man (and woman and child), he voiced his determination to create Art with a Purpose. But a few minutes into the discussion about art, politics and Modernism, he visibly faltered in his resolve, tripped up by the concept of Beauty: How do I know something is beautiful? And can I make something that is both beautiful, and has the power to change people’s perceptions? How can people like and buy art that I consider bad?

To fully appreciate this situation, you must know that most of the students in this Visual Arts department come from a dysfunctional third world schooling system, and struggle to write and speak more than a pretty basic English. How they gain admittance to a tertiary educational institution is a mystery to me. But hey, this is Africa. We wing it mostly, we’re dismally short on good museums and galleries, and when kids show determination and a willingness to work, we are excited and grateful.

Well, it got interesting. For a generation whose role models are Rihanna (yes, the US of A is ever present even in deepest Africa), Kanye West, and hip hop culture, it’s a stretch of the imagination to appreciate, let alone understand, the twists and turns of art history. And when we get to Picasso’s mangled forms, they find it hard to reconcile their standardized cultural tastes with such aberration. Yet Guernica managed to get under some skins, especially since the history of Namibia and South Africa is not short of injustices of many kinds…

Eventually we agreed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yet truly great art transcends subjective taste and achieves value beyond aesthetic achievement. I’ll spare you the long of it, as it’s a discussion I believe that can last a lifetime. What excites me is that this young student- hopefully multiples of him or her- cannot now go back to his previous views on the world and art, and more specifically, the purpose of his art. He must move forward from this point, and I’m proud and moved that I was around when he woke up.

What is your take on this topic? All comments welcome…

I’ll keep you posted on the young revolutionary’s progress 😉

Scenes from the Historical Event at Guernica during Spanish Civil War

Info about Guernica: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(painting)

gathering momentum

As summer approaches in the southern hemisphere, my creative counsellor aka The Boyfriend nudges me yet again to take another step towards a long-missing acknowledgement: That I am, in fact, an artist with a voice. A voice that needs to share, encourage, explore, and heal. We are all to some extent suffering from a lack of confidence and self-belief, and nowhere can that be more poisoning than in the creative fields. Yet the power of others’ creative achievements has propelled me forward countless times, as has their critical input towards my own art. Hence my decision to enter the web community, so that I may become a more fully functioning participant in that beautiful exchange of energy which has the potential to change the world, one artist at a time.

 

“Diaz Point” Oil on Canvas 1998

Artist: Silke Berens

Diaz Point is at the coast of perhaps the most desolate town in the whole universe: Lüderitz was built on the discovery of diamonds in the desert at the end of the 19th century; today it has a small fishing industry and some offshore diamond mining vessels keeping it alive. I spent a few years living there, entranced by the feeling of complete exposure to the extreme elements existing between desert and ocean. That’s me on the rickety old bridge fighting the constant, merciless wind…

For more info on Lüderitz, please visit:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%BCderitz