About: Creativity | Judging Art | Attitude | Direction | Confidence
The work of an artist, more than any other professional, must be creative not repetitive. Artists, as a class of professionals, are expected to continually produce new and refreshing images of dreams, scenes, and interpretations of life and it is their natural tendency to do so. This is one of the reasons the art world has seen so many art-isms come and go through time and in all corners of the globe. The Cubists, Fauvists, Surrealists, etc., were all probing for new ways of expressing and representing their mindscapes. These scores of artists created new categories of visual art rather than continuing on with traditions established earlier. Creativity, the most intangible of human qualities, is often suppressed by our living within artificial constraints and with a developed fear of disappointment and failure. Many believe that we are born with creativity as intrinsic as heart beat and breathing rhythms. At some period in our childhood, this fearless spirit is short-circuited by taunts, raw criticism, and peer pressure. While still innate, it is shielded by a defense mechanism that forever remains with us as a formidable barrier to success and happiness.
For decades artists, philosophers, psychiatrists, and scientists have struggled to capture the nature of creativity in a nice compact package or recipe. It has yet to be accomplished! The most that can be safely said is that creative ideas are often a combination of apparently disjoint concepts brought together to form a useful function or have some other value to mankind. In addition, creative ideas seem to evolve in a sequence of drawn out chronological phases rather than in some burst of clear thought that one merely needs to wait for. These stages have been described as Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification. Whereas similar stages have been alternately described by several authors it remains axiomatic that creative activity is sparked by dogged determination to find a problem solution, despite many awkward beginnings, and a willingness to criticize one’s own work to seek out improvement. Two well-known commercial phrases serve to describe this well: Just Do It! And Continuous Improvement!
When asked to select the winner of a Creativity Award in Art it is tempting to ask the questions:
“How am I to judge the most creative work of art amongst a large selection of beautiful pieces?” and
“Is there a list of attributes or design rules that could guide one in this decision?”
Unfortunately, there is no easy path to this goal. The choice is as subjective, and arguably more so, than selecting the Best of Show. But, therein, for the judge, lies a certain comfort in knowing that his/her choice cannot be wrong or even argued in any absolute sense. He/She simply does his/her best without prejudice or any other compromising thoughts.
Wassily Kandinsky is widely considered to be the sole inventor of abstract art. His early printmaking experience led to a few turns at impressionism and post-impressionism and by 1908 he was influenced by the Fauvists and the German Expressionists. He was already 42 years old and was struggling in his personal life and with what direction his art career should take. In 1909 he began painting his “compositions”, “impressions”, and “improvisations” and these became known as the first works of abstract art. During this period of time many changes were occurring in the art world but none as abrupt and dramatic as abstract art. According to Kandinsky scholars, and his own writings, he felt that representational works did not satisfy his need to express inner feelings. This need was apparently stronger than any fear of failure he may have experienced. He wanted to innovate through a process of experimentation, discover through a process of exploration, and was not concerned about criticism from peers or public.
We can trace this same spirit and dogged determination through the careers of many other artists since Kandinsky. Braque and Picasso were not concerned about public outcry when they advanced the first cubist images. When Kurt Schwitters, and later Joseph Cornell, gathered urban detritus and arranged it in a box, they didn’t pause and ask “But what will they say at the gallery”? Thiebaud didn’t ask, “If I paint an array of decorated cakes will someone buy it”? It doesn’t really matter if you and I like their work because humankind is so diverse that it is a sure bet someone will. And that is all that matters!
An important and continuing task for the artist is to find and accumulate methods of rising above criticism and breaking through the creativity barrier so that his work remains fresh. He must be courageous and not fear frequent failure and must, of course, learn from his mistakes. Techniques for general creativity enhancement are numerous and well described in a number of sources. The best known of these is brainstorming but all can be used in almost any environment needing creative thought including the arts. An important element in most of these techniques is the unexpected and often beneficial result of forced juxtaposition of apparently unrelated ideas. Arthur Koestler, in his book The Act of Creation, likens any creative act to the process of writing good humor and refers to the above-mentioned juxtaposition to “the collision of incompatible matrices”. Specific techniques used by artists to prompt new work are the use of new tools and materials. Matisse drew with a long stick, Jasper Johns resurrected the ancient medium of encaustic, and Nathan Oliviera energized the popular reuse of monotype, which was first explored by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione in 1642. Also, we now have 20th century materials such as acrylic, alkyd and iridescent pigments with which to experiment.
From time to time artists find themselves in competitions of one sort or another. Usually it is a juried show but it may also be as simple as competition for sales in a gallery or the pang of jealousy when seeing another artist’s work. Competition is a blessing in disguise in all human endeavors because it ultimately improves performance of those who feel its grip. Competition instills a desire to win and winning is a measure of success. If you ask a winning athlete what is the most important trait of a winner he will respond, “CONFIDENCE”. Milt Campbell, b. 1933 d. 2012, won the Silver medal in the decathlon at the 1952 Olympic games and the Gold medal at the 1960 games. He was being interviewed on television and was asked, “If Dan O’Brien ( a modern decathlete) were pitted against Bruce Jenner (an older decathlete) who would win”? Ignoring the precise question Campbell replied, “You’re looking at him”. Here is a man who still had the confidence of the world’s greatest athlete. Speaking of The Greatest, do you think that when Muhammed Ali spoke that famous line, “I am the greatest”, he was merely boasting? If you do then you are wrong, he truly believed it! That supreme confidence was a innate part of his character as it was Campbell’s and it becomes part of any winners character and that includes winning artists. How is that level of confidence acquired? Hard work, determination, and small victories along the way are the path to winning and success. What is success? First, it is not money! If it were, John Gotti would be successful, drug lords would be successful, while Abe Lincoln and Michelangelo would not be. In my opinion success is measured by happiness, accomplishment, and pride and underlying these measures is confidence.