This morning I woke up all fired up about an idea to share. I curled up with laptop, tea, and cat, and proceeded to write. In one unidentified movement on the keyboard I accidentally erased to whole of what I’d written, and couldn’t find a way to recover it. Oh, well, I thought, I guess that was just pre-writing, getting my thoughts out. Still, I was grumpy about it. I was attached to THOSE words. Those EXACT words. Later, on the phone with my boyfriend, I recounted the story in an attempt to drum up sympathy for my lost words. What if it was on its way to being the most brilliant blog post I’d ever write? Um. Yeah, probably not, but still, I wanted SOME glimmer of recognition. I talked and talked and pretty soon I was aware of the silence on the other end. “Are you there?” I asked. Silence. He called a minute later; his phone had died.
Hm. It’s only 10:00 a.m. and I’ve already had (another) lesson on not taking myself, my words, my actions, my efforts, too seriously. I alternately love and hate such lessons.
There’s a project I have my beginning drawing students do, that delights some, irritates others, and surprises all of them. I have them begin their drawings with whatever drawing tool they want–I encourage them to try something different, perhaps, something daring, such as a sharpie pen, or even an oil cattle marker, or if they’d prefer charcoal or graphite (so they can erase) they can use those too. I have them draw for about 15 minutes, working the 18 x 24″ paper in a quick gesture to get a feel for their overall composition, and to block out large shape relationships. Before they get too detailed with it I ask them to stop, take whatever materials they’ve been using, and go to the drawing next to them, not their “own.” So now the drawing that was once their neighbor’s is now their own. They can make whatever changes they choose to. They can change the entire composition or proportions, or they can continue with what the original person started. After about 15 minutes, they go to the next drawing, and act as if this is now their drawing, and they need to work with it in a way to make it better. And so on for the rest of the class.
I have my students do this project for a variety of reasons, from seeing how varied marks can energize a drawing, to providing them with something fun and unexpected, reminding them that art is also rooted in play. I also want them to roll with the process of making–that sometimes the most interesting work is that which we detach from, allowing the process to take over. They end with their original piece, and they are able then, to reclaim their work, and do whatever they need to resolve it as a finished piece. These drawings are some of the most interesting they do all semester.
Most artists are solitary creatures. We ruminate. We are serious. We do art WORK. But what happens when the file disappears, the coffee spills on a drawing in progress, the cat makes the ball of yarn into his own masterpiece? What about the things that looked gorgeous in your head but turn out looking boring, ugly, uninspired? How do we collaborate with the unexpected, the unwanted, the uninvited? I don’t have answers today. If I pretended to, I wonder if the collaborative forces of the universe would remind me, perhaps with another blank computer screen, that answers aren’t the point anyway.