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.
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.
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.
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.
This letter was originally published as “Creative foreplay” on August 29, 2006.
“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” (Emile Zola)
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