Tag Archives: Creativity

Feel the fear and paint it


Was he afraid?

Marion Milner, a celebrated child psychoanalyst wrote of her own creative anxieties in her book On Not Being Able to Paint (Heineman, 1950, but still available). Fear is embedded in much of the writing on creativity, mainly because creativity is a public expression of internal life. It is a form of exposure, and ever mindful of judgemental others, we often are more afraid of what this exposure, than the actual creative results themselves. In most cases, despite self doubts, we are proud of our creativity, but know where it is deficient — we’re just nervous about hearing that from others.

Milner’s point rested on various assumptions about preconditions for the production of a work of art itself, namely technical mastery of materials. This is obviously in contrast to whether the creative results are personally satisfying, or articulate well what we are thinking. Art is form of expression, not just a meander across a canvas or a lump of clay deformed by idle hands.  This despite some art being of this form, of course.

Henry Peacock, in his excellent book Art as Expression (Whalesback, 1995) observed that of his art students, the ones that drew well were the least creative as artists, as they were more intent on replicating the form of what they saw, whereas those who drew less well were more inclined to engage with and interpret the external world. Peacock’s book is important as it is provides inspiration for people to explore their creativity without the fear and anxiety of mastering technologies first (like pens and ink, and paint or clay).

All these issues are well-addressed in Art and Fear (Image, 2001) an excellent tonic by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

Taken together, the fear that drives many to avoid creativity is actually self-imposed and has no bearing on whether we are actually able to express ourselves through various artistic approaches.

Now, as an abstract artist, I would like to encourage creative souls to shrug off their attachment to what things look like and think about how to let your inner perceptions dominate. The art world has its cycles, from loving the realistic paintings, with figurative precision through to inscrutible abstract constructions which for many may bring on a headache. Abstraction is the true form (sounds like a mantra…), it excites and challenges the mind, is obviously much harder to do, as it requires real honesty and elegant presentation of complex inner thoughts. For others, it is easier to paint the vase and the flower and I accept that for many people this is enjoyable and satisfying. I’m only saying, there can be more.

Art methodologists and historians may see artistic periods like the tide — new ideas come in and wash away the old. Once done, it can’t be done again. Some think of it as the shock of the new, as all art history must be constantly rewritten from the perspective of current artistic tides. That does not mean that these perhaps passe modes of expression have nothing to say, otherwise why do we keep them on show in art galleries and museums.

So, as Julia Cameron says (this is her site for The Artist’s Way or you can find her book on Amazon ), take an artist’s day out and visit the gallery, but look at the abstracts instead. If you wear glasses take them off and look at them unfocused. If you don’t need glasses (lucky you!), find a spot on the painting and lose yourself in it so you see the rest of the painting with your peripheral vision. Or find a sculpture garden and wander around it feeling the work, not looking at it.

Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself.


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The Magpie Index to Assess Autonomous Creativity

What is a magpie and what has it got to do with artists?

English: A juvenile Australian Magpie (Cractic...

An artist? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have posted and written about how people learn to be artists by copying the art of other artists. As I put it, a bit like copying Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare thinking it will help you be a better writer. I see students copying paintings in art galleries as essentially learning to steal, not developing autonomous and authoritative creativity.

The history of art is full of copyists, fakers, as well as artists whose work has been appropriated by less creative (usually male) others. And there are artists whose work fills the sidewalks of cities, with dreary scenes, painted in predictable formats to fit in the luggage of tired tourists who need evidence of the visit.

And there is the art that stops us in our tracks, and changes our world forever: we weep in its power, reflect on it, are challenged by it, never bored, are overwhelmed by its subtley, timelessness. It is  the shock of the new. This is not the shock of the shock itself; the sort of things kids do by writing dirty words on the side of buildings to get a rise from the neighbours, or swearing in front of the parents — mere juvenalia and the sort of art produced by students in art schools who churn out starry eyed people whose greatest shock in life will be the realisation that they will never be famous.

So what about magpies? Well, don’t they steal shiny things, and hoard their ill-gotten harvest? Don’t some artists simply thieve away, copying others, depending on other creatives for inspiration?

Languages are full of words which writers get to combine any way they like, as long as they don’t deliberately copy another person which we call this plagiarism. We often hear sequences in one musical composition that occur in another, but a different context, but without formal references, but inspiration is evident. In the same way that we don’t footnote every word we use, we must acknowledge some creative ownership of sequences of words produced by another person.

So, when is an artist like a magpie? When they pretend to be creative, and importantly, when they lack autonomous creativity, in themselves, and depend on being stimulated solely by the work of others. A harsh standard perhaps.

And when is an artist not like a magpie? Now that is the interesting question!

Email me with artists assessed against my Magpie Index and let’s see what we have.

The Magpie Index

The Magpie index has these ‘chunks’: 1: thieves, 2-3 copiests, 5-7 creators, with 4 the transitional score:

1: thief: unrepetentent plagiarist, counterfeiter/faker

2: copiest: mostly copied work, and little evidence of underlying messages, work is mainly mute or pointless

3: copiest: some interesting ideas, and evidence of having something to say, but may be immature and perhaps too ‘on the nose’ to have any deep impact

4: maturing: evidence of creativity that comes from within more than from others; this is a transitional score between copying and creating

5: creator: mainly original art work with evidence of some, perhaps only glimmerings, of something to say

6: creator: frequently challenging work, evidence of original perceptions and ideas being presented, work is thoughtful and worth more than 20 seconds of your time

7: creator: autonomous, original, changes fundamental perceptions, evidence of authority, strong though not always evident messages

A final note is that the Magpie index is not ageist; younger artists are as likely to fail as older artists. Or to put this another way, older emerging artists are as likely to score 5 and up as the hot young things that fascinate the ‘art establishment’.

‘nough said.

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