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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Forgetful Artist - Memory and Art

"There is so much I don't know. And so much I do know, if I just took the time to think about it."

I've made forgetfulness an art form. I stumbled upon the idea of actually training myself to forget techniques that I've learned. Now why on earth would I want to do that?

Its simple really. When I forget a technique and relearn it later, it returns in a different way. I do not allow a technique to take root in my head so completely that I fall into a pattern of creativity that excludes everything else.

A lot of artists learn something new and that's where they remain. They find a comfort level in repeating the same technique in slight variations over and over. I'm not putting that down. I think there are benefits to learning something and then exercising it over and over again.

I am an experimental artist in every fiber of my being. I revel in a piece of art so challenging and enigmatic that it is almost beyond my grasp to create it.

I think there is some evidence to support that other artists throughout history have done the same. If you look at an artists like Edgar Degas he devoted his life to repeating and repeating the same techniques until he had mastered them absolutely. And in many cases even the same subject matter such as the ballet dancers. But if you look at Pablo Picasso you see a constant attraction towards experimentation in sculpting, printmaking, painting, and even stage design and poetry and totally divesting himself of preconceived notions of what his skills were.

He was never satisfied to remain in one zone. I doubt he even cared what he remembered from early on as long as he could try something new.

The advantage of this philosophy of art is that nothing ever gets stagnant. By releasing my grip on trying to remember everything I learned in a particular phase of my art, I am willing and even eager to discover it once again and create something totally new and different with the re-found information.

I suspect that this is one reason that some artists go through what we term "periods". Picasso was well known for this. His "blue period" for example lasted 4 years between 1900 and 1904 and he is well known for the work he created in this period. It was followed in short order by his "rose period" and so on and so forth till his death.

This constant rediscovery is healthy for an artist. It challenges us and keeps us from growing stagnant. It teaches us old things in a new way and forces our minds to think in totally new directions.

I'm not advocating that artists seek to forget everything they know. I don't think it can work that way. But forgetting the key details about techniques, can be healthy.

I admit here that one of my biggest phobias in life is worrying about Alzheimer's. It does not run in my family, but it is such an insidious disease which destroys peoples minds, that I cannot help but fear it, especially as I grow older.

I read of a study once done on Nuns. The study was looking at memory in Nuns who had been in convent for most of their lives. They found the Nuns who did the crossword puzzle in the newspaper each day showed less to no signs of memory loss in old age.

I can't help but think that constantly exercising the mind is much like building a levee against memory loss. You would think that my purposeful forgetting would be dangerous to someone who fears Alzheimer's but I think the opposite might apply. I think by constantly challenging my mind to learn new things and relearn old might be just what is needed to stop the process of permanent memory loss.

Who can say for sure. All I know is that this works for me and my art.

Of course I always have my past pieces to guide me and remind me again, so nothing is ever totally lost. Merely misplaced.


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