I’m not going to be original in admitting I don’t follow my own advice. Or maybe originality would have to be something like observing the way I’m inconsistent around this.
My first-year students learning computer programming are often intimidated by the exemplars we instructors trot out on lecture slides and in textbook examples. The intimidation consists of the distance students feel from where they are to where they think they must be to write such clear computer programs. I have to not only show but also explain to my students, over and over again, that what they see is the tidied-up and finished result. There is rarely a straight line from the idea to the code, only plenty of false starts, dead ends, yet these eventually lead to understanding, confidence, and achievement. (That’s why a good student is so mesmerized by a good teacher in the midst of the teacher’s unscripted, off-the-cuff, nearly-desperate problem solving when something goes terribly wrong during a lecture.) And after the four years of studying in our undergraduate program, only then do students believe what I told them in first year about the absence of straight lines. The students want so badly to believe in such straight lines that those four years are needed before they stop looking for the unicorn.
My friend GH recently let me borrow his copy of “Thought is Infinite”, a survey of the work of June Leaf. (It’s a great book, I’ll be adding my own copy to my collection Real Soon Now). Her studios in NYC and Mabou, Nova Scotia are layered with decades of paint, material, stuff, all of it to hand as she continues to create. I love her markmaking, with a freedom and energy present that one can only get from seeing drawings. The book includes photographs of her at work in the studios, and I get a glimmer of the sense of her willpower and strength by looking at its surfaces. And my sense, too, is that she’s not been afraid of false starts for a very long time.
Once upon a time I would have overwhelmed by the idea of such a studio space. Now I’m realizing, and slowly coming to accept, the detritus and false starts go hand in hand with following my eye in the directions it wants to lead. Maybe stuff I think unfinished is not really unfinished at all, and that if I just let myself look at the universe at a slight angle, something will show up for the first time in that universe. A friend (God rest her soul) once said that weeds were plants that refused to grow in a straight line. So maybe artistic detritus is energy from an idea that refuses to move in a straight line.
This is my second post on the same theme. I’m awakening now to how mesmerized I have been all my life with the (false) stories we tell each other about artistic creation. I think I’m waking up, but stlll feel very, very groggy.