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Monday, July 31, 2017

Running Headlong into the Fog - Developing Creative Ideas

Sometimes I will get a very vague idea for a project. So vague that all I can see are shadows of what it could possibly be. If started these can fail easily because we have no guidance of the overall form. So why bother? 

Its easier to have a fully formed idea for a piece of art. Its more like playing connect the dots to get to what you see as the finished idea. Sometimes it feels too easy. 

As an experimental artist I challenge myself constantly even when I have nothing but a ghost of a concept to work on. Okay, so here is this odd sort of, hard to describe thing in my head. It doesn't have much form or shape. It doesn't have colors or sizes or dimensions. It more like looking at an object through a heavy fog and hoping you can figure out what it is before its either gone or you run headlong into it. 

But its often good to challenge ourselves. Nothing teaches us more than flying blindly into something even if it means we go splat on the wall we did not see. 

When I was a professional photographer, I would often get this funny little tingle in the back of my spine when I would spot a nearly perfect image in the lens of my camera. I would think to myself "thats a winner!" and 99% of time when I got back to my studio, that would end up being the best shot taken. 

As I progressed into the arts, that feeling stayed with me even when the camera wasn't in my hands. I'd get an idea for something and go "whoa I need to look into closer!" Usually when I get that feeling, I rush to begin it. I know that it will only stick around so long and I'd better act on it. 

But with a foggy idea, its sometimes hard to know how to act or even why. There is often no feeling other than "try it". 

The intelligent artist would say "i'm not going to waste my time on a wild goose chase." I'm not very intelligent.

So I began a project recently after I'd woken up from a very strange dream. I couldn't describe it really. But I could sense a shape. I wasn't even sure what it was. My first thought was that I had a piece of styrofoam in storage that kind of looked like the shape. So I went and retrieved it and put it on my work table and stared at it awhile. 

Then I shrugged it off and went back to other projects. It stayed there for a couple days, sort of taunting me. Every so often it would say to me "you know what this is". I'd grumble and ignore it some more. 

Then one day I sat down in front of it and said "its a spaceship isn't it?" It of course just shrugged at me and I went off in disgust once again. 

No, its not quite a spaceship. It is, but its something else also. But what??? 

So I sat back down and I started cutting random shapes with my foam cutter. Honestly I had no clue what of. I just used my intuition to try and fill in some of the gaps that were in the fog. I did this for several days. Occasionally one piece would feel right and I'd attach it to the big piece of foam. Some I ripped back off later, others I kept. Then I went and ransacked my supply room for odd shapes and brought them into the studio. 

Like a kid playing with blocks, I stacked and re-stacked and broke things off and glued things on over and over again. A total waste of time. Nothing worked. 

Then a funny thing happened. I started turning the block of foam around. From its original position, I'd added things to it, but I'd never really moved it from its original position. 

And then I saw it. Quick as a bolt of lightning, I saw what the structure was meant to be. It had been there in front of me the whole time, but again, like a structure you see in the fog, I had to walk around it to figure out what it was. 

And with that I had a working plan to continue with. I knew what it was meant to be and the frustration instantly left me and as if the wind came along and removed the fog I could see the whole length and breadth of the project. I knew what it was, I knew what I needed to do to get to end, I knew.

You see this is the basic element of idea building that many forget. They think when they brainstorm an idea that it has to be complete in their minds. They can't just start with something so amorphous that couldn't possibly explain it to anyone, even themselves. 

In today's world of creativity, that is a quick road towards disaster. What we overlook is that an idea always starts out vague. And if left to itself it will always remain that way. But if we stack the blocks and tear them down enough times, suddenly we see what we are looking for. Sadly most fear that part. They think "my boss will kill me if I come to him and say I have an idea that I can't describe or even see. Can I work on it?" 

As artists, we are one of the few groups that often don't have to worry about what the boss thinks. We can experiment and we can play and we can sculpt shapes in the fog until we find one we like. The thing is, we don't. We stick to what we know and we create what we think we can clearly see. We don't take the time to just play in the fog. 

In the end it doesn't even matter if we find the final solution. We've still learned a lot just in the exploration. Skills that can be used over and over again and which we never would have had otherwise. Nothing...absolutely nothing is a waste of time for the creative mind. Everything will ultimately lead us towards something new, whether we like it or not.

And if you are wondering what the thing was that I saw in the block of styrofoam, well you'll just have to check back later. 

I'm going to go dance around in the fog for awhile.


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