How long does it take to make an artwork?

A lifetime at least. More than that because so much is double-timed, images and words running parallel to every ordinary day, fading in and out of the corners of the mind while everything else goes on—a lifetime of double-timing between those moments of sharp intensity while the focus is entirely on the work.

Whether a simple-seeming splash of color or a living line, a brushstroke or plunges of some sharp tool … whether stitching in space or dancing in it, writing words or singing them, or bringing pure sounds into a void … the thing taking form depends on everything lived so far and imagined yet to come.

Life Forms, Eventually to Wonder
Linen and cotton yarns, handmade paper, river stones, bone beads, on a wrapped tree branch, 36 in H x 48 in. W x 17 in. deep.
An expression of my most-often-used artist’s statement: Here on this fleck among the uncountable stars something takes form, eventually to wonder why we are and what to each other.

I worked on this piece over several years, off and on and, of course, double-time. Stitchery is a very slow means of expression, so the thing itself is likely to grow a lot between concept and final form. This old needlelace technique works to create surfaces in the air and handmade paper is yet another way of making something that wasn’t there before. I like stones for their compositional value but especially because stones are ancient in our world and always seem to have something to say on their own.

— Pat

Avoid Mere Self-expression!

Avoid mere4inThat’s a line that I once scrawled inside a paper sculpture—one of a series of artworks called “messages.”

Google “self-expression.” Today I got 2,480,000 results in less than a second. At a glance, it’s obvious that a lot of our cultural dialogue is dedicated to self-expression. A Wikipedia article connects it with a “creative class” of people who get to express themselves in their work. Centers, classes, and various kinds of gurus offer to teach people how to express themselves. And self-expression is highly recommended in discussions on leadership, spirituality, democracy, self-esteem—to say nothing of selling pitches for cars and clothes (which, of course, look just like a lot of other cars and clothes).

OK, so that could go on and on. Clearly, self-expression has many advocates.

First have a self. Wim reminds me of the observation—probably originally from Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way—that one must have a self to express. But that self must be an evolving thing. So we sort of dance around in circles—find self … express … find … express … Maybe that’s not a bad way to go about a creative life. (Though I must note that art galleries and publishers can resist the finding and expressing of a new self—they often prefer the repetition of whatever has already proved commercially successful.) Why should anyone avoid expressing the self?

Let’s get back to that word mere.

In essays, articles, books, academic research, and artworks, I’ve tried to understand, identify, and explain the creative experience. In my definition, “self-expression” is not nearly enough. Those very words seem to imply the expression of something you already know, and that’s what a lot of self-expression seems to be about. But as the expression of a self in a state of discovery it can become part of the whole creative experience. At that point, it’s no longer “mere.”

The creative experience is more like hanging off the edge of a cliff … or jumping off … or falling off. It’s risky. You’re writing about something you almost know, or barely know, but that you’re in the process of finding out more about.

Comments from other cliffhangers are welcome. —Pat