Persist or Desist? That is the question.

Since the summer school, I have had the usual million thoughts about carrying on with my wrappings. Should I? Why should I? How will I? I have had insights and meaningful little thoughts, a lovely email from a friend who injected some thinking about gyres into the mix, and chance to work in my sketchbook on ideas and trials to laminate fabric and paper successfully. ‘Sounds very artistic and fulfilling’ I hear you say, but in fact it has been a really messy, stressy time with moments oscillating (which is a pretty good word – needs using more) between highs and lows. It all culminated with a conversation with Him Indoors who told me as I was describing my wish for others to understand the ideas behind my very important work (cough!) that it was complete rubbish. ‘People’, he said, ‘see what they see and not what is in your head, and nothing you can do will change that unless you write an epistle to go with said important work.’   
Well!! Rude!! After a fleeting moment of indignation, I was left with an insight that actually he was completely right (which is something a woman should only admit to a man on VERY rare occasions, about once a year usually suffices). I know this because after many conversations about ‘the feathers’ he still sees them as leaves, which is fine, but associates my piece of very important work with a pixie dress (yes! I know!) despite knowing all about the story behind them. This is due to a love of fantasy computer worlds and creating costumes for characters, and nothing I can say will change this association in his head. Secretly, this is quite annoying and I find myself harbouring a small inclination towards physical violence. 

So, the lesson about doing art for yourself and not others has gone in a bit deeper with this latest chapter of my tortured mind. Nevertheless, I am left with a number of ponderings.

When you have an idea about creating something, what is it that keeps you struggling with it until something is resolved? Do some artists have much larger reserves of patience or sheer bloody-mindedness to keep going? I’m presuming the idea has to be big enough to drive a compulsion or fascination along with a hefty dose of graft. Take Picasso, what allowed him to persist painting the same scenes over and over again, or Mondrian to carry on abstracting and ‘subtracting’ from his work until he reached what we best know him for?

Is this true?

               ‘There’s no shortage of remarkable ideas, what’s missing is the will to execute them’
Seth Godin 

Some of this must be about knowing yourself, and your circumstances. For instance, I know that I tend to work quickly, and can get a bit bored so I might have a shorter window to explore ‘the important thing’ before it evaporates. I also work full time and how to prioritise the time and energy I have for art is a factor. There are also different levels at which inspiration abides with us. We all have lasting interests; I have a deep love of nature formed in childhood which is reflected in most of what I do, and for some reason I am also helplessly drawn to linear, vertical lines. Then there are events, circumstances and relationships through to fleeting observations which generate creativity.   

For me, there is the chase of the idea. I am definitely an ideas person at home and at work, and love the synthesis of bringing thoughts and materials together creatively. I recognise that it’s this part which often gives me more of a buzz than the execution which I can feel a bit disappointed about. But I have also found that it can tie me in knots and sap the playful element of making so I presume there has to be a balance so that one doesn’t consume the other.

There’s also something about being able to see that you might be able to do a thing. Not that you can literally see the finished article, but a kind of knowing that you have a fighting chance of working through to something pleasing. When I have that feeling I can be in the flow and persistence is easy, but when it’s absent that’s when things are really hard. At that point (and it may be completely normal) that is when the decision to desist, or at least evaluate whether the idea/source of inspiration is still important enough to struggle on with, faces you. I think that is my Picasso point – do I carry on or not? And this time, it’s ‘not’. And it feels uncomfortable. I feel a little bit guilty, which is odd.

I now have a sketchbook full of abandoned ideas and pages which represent quite a lot of time which I struggle to believe is not wasted. I know it isn’t really, and I did enjoy much of the exploration, but I think as someone who has never studied art, I’m still coming to accept that this is part of the natural process:- lots of possibilities conceived along the way and only a few coming into being.

You may have lost the plot by now, or be thinking that I might benefit from a lie down in a soft and darkened room, but I can only say that I find writing about what I feel is going on as I create helpful in terms of making sense of it all, and then letting it go. Of course, Him Indoors would probably be rolling around the floor in helpless convulsions of laughter reading this, but that’s the point! I’ve written this because I wanted to and you, lovely reader, are invited to receive it as you will. You may think ‘yes, it’s a bit like that for me’ or ‘get help for that mad woman immediately.’ I generally respond well to giant chocolate buttons.

Following chocolaty drugs, I promise to be much more normal and have pictures next time, but for now I leave you with this:

“Creative activity could be described as a type of learning process where teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.”
 Arthur Koestler 

14 thoughts on “Persist or Desist? That is the question.

  1. I suspect that many of us if not all go through these sort of moments. I don’t do sketchbooks but if you do at least you go back any time to re look at ideas.
    I love the work in your previous post.

  2. A sketchbook full of abandoned ideas is a wonderful thing, far better than no sketchbook and those ideas gone – Pop! – into the ether like a child’s bubble, never to be recaptured, reworked, or composted into new ideas! The more ideas you play with the more you get and even if one doesn’t become your ‘Big Thing’ – so what? You are creative and creating! Big Up!!!

  3. Relate it to Nature – not all seedlings flourish – some wither away to nothing – others lie dormant for long periods of time and then in the right conditions burst forth with their beauty! Others have very small windows of opportunity to thrive – miss that moment and they have to wait for that next window. xxx

  4. Don’t give in to the negative talk. It’s always there, will never go away, harangues the artist especially. (I am resisting parenthetical qualifying statements.) If what isn’t working, isn’t working, work on something of lesser consequence and you may find yourself going back to what didn’t work ’til now. I so enjoyed reading this. I think the first success is your ability to name things. Thank you for supplying the words I have been without.

  5. A tutor said to me if you feel stuck and something is not working put it in another room for a day, week, a month then go back and decide how to move it forward. A sketchbook is there as a reference to return to time and time again. Perhaps only 1 small idea will let itself be known but what fun when it does. My husband called my creative endeavours ” my knitting” but that was OK. He understood knitting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. You have made my day brighter. We are on the same page. I would say all of that, if I knew how. Thanks for writing it for me.

  7. The sketchbooks full of abandoned ideas and preparatory work that seems to lead nowhere are something I’m familiar with – but I think it’s just part of the creative process. (Imagine an athlete doing lots of fitness work that doesn’t appear to be part of their sport – we’re honing our creative selves in the same way.) And the work that’s been set aside will probably reappear to help in the creation of a different piece…)

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