It’s the weekend and after a busy week at the computer, I am taking the day off. There is so much I want to write about, so many thoughts crowding in, but none are yet ready to make the transition from brain to paper.
Instead, I’ll share a few photos from our mid-February week of dog sitting.
Zoe came on a Tuesday. She is a black and white dynamo and Karina’s closest friend. She is a year or two older than Karina and had a litter of puppies before Kathleen rescued her.
Being more worldly than Karina, Zoe likes to introduce her to new experiences. For example, she has instructed Karina in the fine art of humping (as I said they are very close friends) and demonstrated for her how to chew a carrot, explaining why that’s better than burying it in your bed.
The two of them tussle constantly, even when they are at rest.
The Saturday after Zoe arrived, Kola was dropped off. She is an eight-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback. Kola is the dignified older sister we all wish we could have. She may occasionally act as though she is above the antics of her younger siblings, but in truth she hates to miss out on anything.
Being an older, bigger dog, Kola reminds me of our Hobbes when he was in his prime, and because of that she has captured a special piece of my heart. She is always eager to help in the kitchen and stands politely at my elbow when I’m cooking, ready to catch any stray ingredients before they slide to the floor. Whenever we return from a human-only excursion, Kola always greets us with a shoe in her mouth. As it happens, she comes from a family of shoe people.
The morning after Kola arrived, the three dogs enjoyed Sunday breakfast together and then took a moment to sit for the camera.
After the morning walk, there were naps. Zoe and Kola commit to their daytime snoozes with every fiber in their bodies.
While as hostess, Karina keeps an eye on things.
In fact, she’s a diligent hostess, getting up each night in the wee hours to make sure her guests are still safely tucked in.
At the end of the weekend, Zoe went home and a few days later, Kola did too.
My fascination with creativity started at our kitchen table, where I’d sit across from my grandfather, both of us drawing. One day, while I worked with my pencil and crayons, he painted a landscape on the back of an old shirt box. I don’t know what happened to it, but I still have this one that he painted on canvas.
Painting by Jacob Scheinfein
Back then all I cared about was my inability to make “realistic” drawings. Too bad he didn’t tell me (or maybe he did and I don’t remember) that making art is much more about perseverance and hard work than it is about innate talent and inspiration.
As artist Chuck Close says, “ Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Practice may not always make perfect, but it does put you on the road to creation. It helps you figure out what you like to do and helps you develop skills and goals. If my grandfather were alive today, I’d ask him, Why that house, those mountains, that tree? Does the scene on canvas match the one in your head? Was there a message behind it? What were you thinking about when you took out your paints and got to work? What was your intention?
A few weeks ago, this video of designer Karin Eriksson at work in her pottery studio, captured my attention. In it, Eriksson seems both deliberate and intentional as she measures out her lump of clay, places it on her wheel, and goes to work. She knows what form she wants that lump of clay to take and how to get it there.
In this case, I’m guessing, the form is already designed — we don’t see if any “rejects” or “seconds” come out of her kiln — and so this video is about process and control, not about what went on in her head when she made the prototype for these pieces. Perhaps this work was executed exactly as planned, but it also may be the result of trial and error or happy accident.
For photographer Sally Mann, accidents are part of the plan. She captures her images using old cameras, faulty lenses, and prints them using the wet-plate collodion process. The resulting photographs have streaks, dust spots, and other “imperfections.” She likes the element of the unexpected that her process engenders. As she says in this clip, “I feel I’m at the whim of the angel of chance because all these wonderful things happen on the plates.”
Last year, when I interviewed artist Sophia Ainslie, she said that in some of her work, “… accident was an important part of the process.” But even when your goal is specificity and deliberation, you have to work with mistakes, “If the mark happens to be in the wrong place—whatever that may mean—,” Ainslie told me, “then you’ve got to run with it and make it right.”
When putting my own ideas down on paper — as opposed to writing up an interview, for example — I may have a broad sense of what I want to say, a tiny kernel of an idea, or even just a feeling to build on, and the bulk of the piece comes while I’m writing and rewriting it. As Chuck Close suggests, I often don’t discover where I’m going until I get to work.
Sometimes I’m hit by that hyperbolic “bolt of lightening” that puts me in “the zone,” and the words seem to flow of their own accord. But that rarely happens.
The other morning my friend Kathleen told me that she has so many ideas that she is having a hard time settling on a direction for an upcoming show. Then the next day she reported that she’d just spent a whole day working on a new piece only to be disappointed with the outcome.
I tried to remind her that this always happens when she’s starting a project. And then I joked that as a writer, when I’m not satisfied, I can just hit the “delete” button. She didn’t laugh. For artists, the cost of rebooting is much more than frustration and dejection — the materials they use are expensive.
Here is some of her work-in- progress.
Photo and artwork by Kathleen Volp
In their tiny gem of a book, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking David Bayles & Ted Orland caution that, “The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential.”
Frustrating but true for all of us, whether we express ourselves through music, words, or images. As Kathleen says, “It’s all about bringing your own voice to your work. You have to be clear and be true to that voice.”
Doing so is hard work. It is painful, messy, and frustrating. But it is also satisfying, affirming, and just plain wonderful.
So, artists, photographers, writers, musicians and bloggers,
Where do your ideas come from?
How much of your creation is about controlling your medium and how much is about overcoming obstacles and setting yourself free?