Creative foreplay

4

Dear Artist,

Out in the golden stubble, under a prairie sky, there’s no one in sight — just Airedale Dorothy and a few summer crickets. This evening the universe is nearly silent — save for a distant train calling its moves from somewhere to somewhere. Up close and personal, there’s no clutter. Here, a mind may be clear for the next work — work that may have nothing whatsoever to do with where one is standing.

Torqued Ellipse (2003-04) steel sculpture by Richard Serra (b.1938) Robert Polidori photo

Torqued Ellipse (2003-04)
steel sculpture
by Richard Serra (b.1938)
Robert Polidori photo

Work zones are preceded by times of dreaming, searching, preparation and anticipation. These periods can last for years, months, or minutes. For many of us, the preliminaries are at least as important as the work zones that follow. Reviewing the nature and frequency of one’s own creative foreplay is a valuable exercise. Avoidance activities and delay ploys need to be spotted and winnowed out. Because of the gray area between work avoidance and foreplay proper, one needs to know the main types:

Passive foreplay is relaxed — a Zen-like calm before a storm of activity. At its core is trust. Knowing that you’ve done it before is exciting and allows you to be blessed once more by the goddess.

Snake (1994-1997) weathering steel sculpture by Richard Serra

Snake (1994-1997)
weathering steel sculpture
by Richard Serra

Active foreplay is energetic to start with. It’s a set-up and a priming for the often calmer activity that follows. As well as long- and short-term considerations, there’s the idea of “something completely different,” such as jogging or energetic wandering — as opposed to “something somewhat similar,” such as sketching. Always, there’s the value of thinking and contemplating — as opposed to the value of not thinking and not contemplating. In the science of creativity, both approaches seem to be valid. It’s a wise artist who understands his preferences.

All creative foreplay serves to prepare the artist for at least a decent start. Apart from building enthusiasm and a feeling that what you are about to do is right for you, more than anything the effort steels resolve. In preparation, dreams somehow mix with practical considerations and the result is a harvest that can only be called “ideas.” These ideas breed, reflect, reject and focus. This phase is a harbinger that can be almost as good as the real thing. With proper preparation, the artist has a better chance of getting lucky.

Best regards,

Robert

Sequence, (2006) steel sculpture by Richard Serra Lorenz Kienzle photo

Sequence (2006)
steel sculpture
by Richard Serra
Lorenz Kienzle photo

PS: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” (Seneca, 60 A.D.)

Esoterica: Over the time I’ve been writing my twice-weekly letters, artists have offered many suggestions for making things happen. Loud music, fast jogging, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, “good book” holding and bank balance reviewing have all been mentioned. Prior (thumbnail) sketches have been praised as a failsafe technique for avoiding boo-boos and getting satisfaction in the main bout. Prior sketches have also been dissed as potentially stealing fire from the final work and interfering with on-the-spot creativity. In my own case, joy and sometimes better work comes through casual, relaxed and frequent contemplation both before and during painting events.

 

To Lift (1967) Vulcanized rubber sculpture by Richard Serra Peter Moore photo

To Lift (1967)
Vulcanized rubber sculpture
by Richard Serra
Peter Moore photo

This letter was originally published as “Creative foreplay” on August 29, 2006.

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” (Emile Zola)

 

 

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. The first paragraph is exactly where I was born and raised … Saskatchewan roots deep in my soul.

    “… out in the golden stubble, under a prairie sky, there’s no one in sight… just Airedale Dorothy and a few summer crickets. The evening the universe is nearly silent – save for a distant train calling its moves from somewhere to somewhere. …”

    Awesome description!

  2. WOW! Right on! I have been waiting for someone to share my way of working. I’m so tired of being told I must have a paintbrush in my hand every day whether I feel like it or not. I have no problem with coming up with ideas and can enjoy painting them in my mind first, or at least a concept with which to begin. This way I can enjoy my life and I love it.

  3. Yes Merle and Ernie, both spot on, (except my roots are on the UK coast!) It has taken me almost a lifetime to cast off the so called rights and wrongs of art making. Now everything that comes my way is an opportunity for the serene unconscious to “speak” and fill my life with the opportunity, when it’s right for me, to go with it into another creative space. No more “shoulds” for me! I am so much happier gardening, listening to music, cleaning out a closet, ‘wandering & squandering’ time, daydreaming by the water, and then my work shows it.

  4. Robert’s comment: “joy and sometimes better work comes through casual, relaxed and frequent contemplation both before and during painting events” fits my needs of his always wise words. Taking time for me to create involves stepping back, assessing, correcting and then moving forward works. Often times I leave a painting as it is for the day and then return the next time with a new and different view. This has been a huge help in my upward mobility to creating the best paintings I can possibly create…….that satisfy me. Thank you, Sara, for reposting your dad’s brilliant article…….Suszanne

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Featured Workshop

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April 5, 2020 to April 11, 2020

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Join painter/author Ellie Harold in sunny Mexico for a week of immersion in a facilitated discovery of your deepest and most essential artist self. If you’re feeling blocked, thwarted or simply longing for a more meaningful expression, the retreat is a unique opportunity to focus on your life/art purpose, discover new directions and explore next steps. You’ll enjoy your own room in the charming Casa de la Noche in San Miguel’s Historic Centro district, painting and writing (with materials provided), guided reflections and focused discussion with plenty of time to explore the color and culture of this vibrant art city. Created with the needs of mature women in mind, this retreat focuses on process rather than product and is for both experienced and novice art-makers. Limited to 12. Register by November 30 to receive Early Bird free shuttle. Click here for a full description, photos and testimonials from past participants.

http://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Zidonja_Magnolia-Joy-wpcf_300x217.jpgMagnolia Joy
Acrylic
11 x 14

Featured Artist

I am a self taught artist, I work in oil, Acrylic and watercolour also in Pastels. Started painting In Ashcroft with Mr. Campbell. I taught my self how to paint by studying professional artists’ work through reading, TV programs, educational DVD and work shops.
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