A creative device that keeps us off the streets is our innate tendency to invent. The mind wanders to the possibilities of what might happen when we try something different. Like Edison or Burbank it’s based on curiosity and dissatisfaction. It’s been said there are two main kinds of inventors: those who find a need and try to fill it, and those who discover something and try to find a use for it. Every day we artists enact both of these archetypes.
These are the times for the making of Leonardos:
Dreamtime: The luxury to dream and the understanding that if something can be properly visualized — it’s relatively easy to make it happen.
Lazytime: Outward indolence is an artesian well where undiscovered knowledge bubbles up from the great subconscious.
Playtime: Permission to play is a state of grace. More things are wrought by fooling with the materials than this world dreams of.
Worktime: Ah yes. Add the dynamite of workmanlike habits and discipline. Nothing much was ever accomplished without perseverance and steady application.
A friend said to me; “This is an inventive business and it’s best to be a solid flake.” Right — note the word “solid.” My next letter will suggest a few simple but often overlooked ideas about improving discipline.
PS: “Inspiration arrived as a result of profound indolence. …I awoke with a start and witnessed, as from a seat in a theatre, three acts of a potentially awesome play.” (Jean Cocteau)
Esoterica: Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was a great experimenter. Born into wealth, he eschewed sales and dedicated his life to innovation. Sound academic technique led to a life of multi-media: watercolor, spirit-thinned oil, gouache, etching, monotype, sculpture, found objects, pastel and many others, as well as compositional daring including snapshot photo happenstance.
The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing.
Dreams tuppence a dozen
by Hardy Wilson, UK
As a matter of fact dreams are the easy part. There are lots of people with dreams. Perhaps too many. Dreams are tuppence a dozen. The big shift is to take those dreams, sort out the best and most profitable — not merely in the monetary sense — and make them happen with work.
by Moses Z Lister, Israel
Invention requires the heavy crossover between the right brain and the left brain. It is a condition which artists are familiar with. When people find they have this ability they often make the mistake of thinking everybody has it. Probably less than 30 percent of the population are truly bicameral, and an even smaller proportion have it in abundance.
In praise of snoozing
by Bert, Los Angeles, USA
Snoozing is the thing I do best. Even if ideas don’t bubble up — they sometimes do, it’s still pleasant.
As seen on TV
by Helen K Beck, Wonderworks
Your thoughts on playtime are brilliant. I printed it out in big letters and posted it on the studio wall. Just a cautionary note: Some artists never stop playing with the materials. Textures and layerings and blobbbing and googeling don’t add up to great art. Anything that Martha Stewart can do is probably not worth much. An artist is a person who can take these effects and turn them into something that is layered in other ways.
by A Zoroneckiy, Bucharest
I have always loved fooling with the materials but felt guilty about it—you have vindicated me and sent me back to the playroom.
by Edith Henderson
I thought the remark of Beryl Markham, the aviatrix, is appropriate here: “I could never tell where inspiration begins and impulse leaves off. I suppose the answer is in the outcome. If your hunch proves a good one, you were inspired; if it proves bad, you are guilty of yielding to thoughtless impulse.”
For us artists work is play, and play is work. Julia Cameron says, “Creativity lives in paradox: serious art is born from serious play.”
The King seen in Germany
by Henry Kosoka, Germany
Right. We live in extraordinary times. Leonardo is today everywhere.
Learn by failing
by Jean Clapham, Jersey
I live on an Island of 45 square miles called Jersey, in the Channel Islands. Having retired 18 months ago to live with my imagination in a room I call my studio, I find your letters facinating. If anyone had told me that this life was going to be so difficult I may have not taken the decision. There are no boundaries to guide one, no walls to hide behind. Every work I finish (that fleeting moment of achievement) is quickly lost when the realization sets in that there is so much more that I have to learn and understand. The so-called finished piece pales into insignificance. I work in any media and on all sorts of backgrounds, the latest being a quilted surface. My favourite is canvas. I do use hardboard quite often, when primed properly acrylics seem to settle quite well. I have had no formal training and so I learn as I fail to progress!
The urge to communicate
by Joseph Yama, Spain
I am now in Barcelona, Spain, but since much of my activity is based on intuitive movement, I use the internet for communication. I have been showing my paintings and sculptures in many galleries and have invented things in relation to music, costumes, gardening, baking, games, and more. My themes are movements and colors, flowering, humane and abstract relationships, and forcing or letting remote concepts combine. I am also fond of corresponding and writing in general. I know what we artists go through in the world, and I am not looking for an excuse, but rather a chance to cry out loud.
Creation and recreation
by Daniel Toublanc, Paris
I am sorry to contradict you, but Degas which I know well never created anything, he did only what thousands did before and after him — he arranged like a good shoe-maker.
Let us look at rather at the work of Edouard Manet whom I know well and have seen closely. Manet is one who innovates and invents at the end of the declining Romanticism and still reigns as a Master with the “French Artists.” When Delacroix and Ingres are lost in formalism, when Corot is soild in “painting the station,” was not “Olympia” an incredible scoop? The art of Manet is solid in creation and technique. It radiated on the history of painting, as Pasteur illuminated science, it deranged the establishment and stripped and pasted by the hour the frivilous ones who smoothed and glazed without heart or talent. To make the choice of creation and innovation, as Manet did, invention is the hard path, the exception and the excellence, but is also an incomparable pleasure.
(RG note) Any errors in translation are solely mine, Daniel, and I thank you, as you said, for writing in the language of Voltaire and Lafontaine.
In this together
by Judy Wood, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
You are an ongoing source of comfort to me, in that your opinions and thoughts on the art process are so similar to mine and so frequently validate my own hard-learned conclusions about the life of the artist. Either we’re both in trouble or both right on the mark!
I have taken the liberty of forwarding your site to my equine art group. Almost every letter lately has something I feel would be useful to this interesting and dynamic group of artists. It finally occurred to me (sometimes the obvious takes time) to send your URL to the group at large rather than forwarding individual letters to individual artists. I trust this is OK.
(RG note) Thanks, Judy.
You may be interested to know that artists from 68 countries have visited these sites since March 30, 2000.
That includes an artist on the island of Jamaica. What I learned while I was in Jamaica was, “Don’t worry, be happy!”