auto-bio-graphically speaking IV: Gorgeous Nows

Perhaps the best part of my graphic journaling practice is how it is influencing my experience of the ongoing present. A new awareness of moments big, small and routine is growing. By taking time each day to notate images from my mind’s eye, I am honoring the fleeting beauty of the everyday.

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Emily Dickinson wrote often about the subject of time.

Forever – Is Composed of Nows –

Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –

From this – experienced Her
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years – exhale in Years –

Without Debate – or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be
From Anno Dominies –

by Emily Dickinson

Poetry is another great way of journaling. What would happen if you reflected on one small detail from your day and wrote a very short poem (one to three lines) capturing it’s essence?

Previous entries:


Further reading and inspiration:

 

Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings. Nothing but gorgeous. Dickinson’s late experimental work photographed and reproduced exactly as she wrote it on scraps of envelopes. A never-before-possible glimpse into the process of a great poet.

 

 

 

Baron Fig Confident Sketchbook Journal and Notebook for Thinkers. Aaaah. Is there anything better than a beautiful, chic, serene, NEW notebook?

 

 

 

Sakura 30062 6-Piece Pigma Micron Ink Pen Set, Black. Pens are important. VERY important.  Many artists, designers, writers, poets would be lost without their Microns.

What Information Overload Looks Like

“Barely 40 years ago, Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein caused a transgressive stir by adopting commercial imagery from newspaper advertisements and comic strips as the subjects of paintings to hang in art galleries. How daring that was, and how dated it is. We are surrounded today by too many images to source or rank.”    -Arthur Lubow, from a NYT article on Takashi Murakami

The world is at the mercy of information, imagery and input.

Ever notice that Times Square is ominously boring these days? The place that once shocked the system with electric tugs of attention and vortexes of sparkly seduction, now kind of falls flat. It is largely an issue of relativity. We have changed. We have become acclimated to an omnipresent deluge of media and constant consumption. Midtown’s spattering of LED screens merely joins the new normal spread of our collective psyche.

What does this new normal mean for humanity?

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Scientists say that we are stuffing way more data through our system than our brains are built to process. One of the key effects of such surfeit, is that the brain loses its ability to order and prioritize information.  In other words, we are in a noisy sea of sameness, and we don’t know where to focus our attention or when to look deeply.  Important things, meaningful things, sensitive things get jumbled and flattened with the frivolous, popular and commercial.

In an interview with Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Daniel Levitan explains how information overload effects the brain:

“It puts us into a brain state of decision fatigue. Turns out, the neurons that are doing the business of helping us make decisions, they’re living cells with metabolism, they require glucose to function, and they don’t distinguish between making important decisions and unimportant ones. It takes up almost as much energy and nutrients to process trivial decisions or important ones.”

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The artist Takashi Murakami captured this phenomenon when he ordained an art movement called Superflat.  Originally specific to Japanese culture and history, his concept seems more and more relevant to the global reality of today.

Coined in 2000 for an exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the term Superflat refers to the leveling of distinctions between high and low.  Everything is driven by consumerism and there is a virtual flood fill of information. Murakami communicates this state of affairs in his icon-bombed paintings, and through his surreal sculptural mash-ups.

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Takashi Murakami came to the Superflat idea partly by reflecting on the missing third dimension that is characteristic in Japanese art history, as well as the critical role that animé and manga played in expressing postwar sentiments in Japan.

“We want to see the newest things. That is because we want to see the future, even if only momentarily. It is the moment in which, even if we don’t completely understand what we have glimpsed, we are nonetheless touched by it. This is what we have come to call art.” -Takashi Murakami

The point is that we are in Murakami’s future now. Information overload and runaway consumerism have spread us thin and made us shallow. We no longer read, we now skim or scroll. We follow power points, rely on headers and avoid complexity. We rarely stop to look closely and reflect.

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It makes me think that we all need to work very hard to protect these essential moments of attention and sensitivity that allow for profundity and meaning.

And, is this not the role of art?

If you take the time to look deeply, art will not disappoint.


CREATIVE PROMPT:

This whimsical exercise is inspired by the visual bazaar that we live in,  Murakami’s paintings and the concept of SUPERFLAT.

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Further reading, toys and supplies:
Takashi Murakami Plush Toy

 

 

 

Murakami: EGO A comprehensive volume of the artist Takashi Murakami’s work.

 

 

Random Stickers 

 

 

 

Time Square Red, Times Square Blue by Samuel Delaney.   Delaney digs into the example of Times Square, and how it has changed over time.

Does Social Media Impair Creativity?

If a post falls in a forest and nobody likes it, does it exist?

With one and a half billion users on Facebook, 284 million on Twitter, and at least 200 million people on Twitter, it is fair to say that social media is powerful enough to twist the fabric of reality as we know it. Its impact on the way human beings connect, share, posture, mate, learn and create is a sociological and philosophical game changer.

Let’s consider the influence of the feedback loop. Facebook alone calculates that there are at least four million posts per hour, followed by an exponential quantity of responses and shares. No sooner has an idea or creation been launched into the world, than the peanut gallery of humanity makes a spitfire assessment. Propositions are subject to an immediate litmus test. Offerings get sorted in realtime for their popularity and worthiness:  thumbs up, thumbs down, no comment, wow.

There has never been a time in history when creative output was so entwined with the feedback loop.

So, what affect does this have on creativity?

The creative process is delicate. Creations need time to gestate, space to become and room to unfold. Creators need privacy to falter and permission to fail. Nikola Tesla, who contributed to the application of electricity, was particularly concerned with the connection between solitude and innovation.

The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone—that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.” -Nicola Tesla

Worthy ideas and strong art demand courageous integrity. They cannot be oriented towards an endgame of mass approval or facile consumption. However, “what works” is the name of the new game, and for a myriad of reasons it is really, really, hard not to play.  Let’s imagine how this model of pandering to approval ratings might pan out:

  • The world is risk adverse = less travel into unknown territories = cultural stagnation
  • Content is responsive = lowest common denominator rules = deterioration of quality content
  • Process is desanctified = harsh conditions for new ideas = poetic paucity
  • Creativity is about marketing = loss of original voices = homogenious and soulless society

Some of these hypotheses are manifest already in the form of click bait, shorter attention spans, magic bullets and media junk food.

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These issues are not black and white- but to my point, as I write this I am aware that complexity doesn’t work in blog posts.  And while I could also write a book about how technology stokes the creative fire, the ramification of the constant feedback loop unnerves me.

Let’s end with these wise words by Oscar Wilde:

“I won’t tell you that the world matters nothing, or the world’s voice, or the voice of society. They matter a good deal. They matter far too much. But there are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!”

-Oscar Wilde, from Lady Windermere’s Fan


CREATIVE EXERCISE

In the spirit of innovation and Nicolas Tesla, this prompt encourages you to use your imagination and wander into new territories

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Join The Creative Hours community. Share your experience!

Email your work to thecreativehours@gmail.com or post your invention using hashtag #TCHinvention


Further reading:
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupéry

 

 
The Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla Presenting some of the marvelous findings and theories which made inventor Nikola Tesla famous. This fascinating book I ncludes lectures, articles and discussions, in particular those bearing on polyphase motors.

Commitment as a Path To Greatness

Life is short.  Paint everything blue.  This is the bittersweet story of the artist Yves Klein, from whom we have much to learn about commitment and maximizing our time on earth.

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In 1947 three teenagers lay basking on a beach in the South of France. They had become close friends at school while all sharing a love for Judo and the arts.  Full of youthful arrogance, these three boys vowed to divide the world between themselves.  The young sculptor named Armand Fernandez chose the earth.  Claude Pascal chose the domain of words, and Yves Klein committed to take on the sky.   If this sounds like a creation myth, that is because, in a way, it was.

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Yves Klein, Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue, 1960

With the sky as his mandate, Yves Klein got right to work. Two years after that pivotal moment at the beach, he summoned the infinite with an ethereal performance piece called “Monotone Silence Symphony”.  Following the minimalist symphony and a Judo focused sojourn in Japan, Yves Klein held his first exhibit of monochromatic paintings in Paris. For his next show in 1957, he narrowed the focus down to one single hue: the color blue.   For Klein, this color represented the concept of the void.  He was interested in how its quality of pure energy was in tension with the materiality of the physical art work.

“At first there is nothing, then there is a profound nothingness, after that a blue profundity.” – Yves Klein

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Yves Klein, Monochrome bleu sans titre, 1959,

Now known as “Yves Klein Blue”, this vibrant color had once existed only in the form of raw pigment.  Klein became obsessed with the lapis lazuli like quality of the ultramarine powder, and engineered a way to keep its luminosity while transforming it into paint.

From the get-go, Klein understood how to make an impact in the art world, and in turn his rise to success was astonishingly direct.  After the heralded blue paintings, Klein went on to explore the relationship between the physical and the void by staging performance pieces in which he used naked bodies as vehicles for paint application.  He also created painted sculptures and other conceptual performance works.  In the field of photography, Klein published poetic series called Saut Dans Le Vide, which shows him swan diving into the open air.

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Tragically, with a new wife and his first baby on the way, Yves Klein had a fatal heart attack at the young age of thirty four.  It is astounding to contemplate the targeted impact that he made with his brief time on this earth.  The commitment and focus with which he approached his life and career seems almost prophetic- as if he was well aware that the clock was ticking away, and that he needed to triage the situation.

Throughout his time, Klein stayed profoundly committed to the sky and its metaphysical implications. His mission was to outsmart mortality, and his method was to paint the world the color of eternity.

When I see Yves Klein blue I am reminded of life’s brevity, and the mandate to be focused, courageous and to make bold propositions in life.  We are all living out our own creation myths- the question is what piece of the universe will you be responsible for?


CREATIVE EXERCISE:

This exercise is inspired by Yves Klein’s passion for the color blue.

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Join The Creative Hours community. Share your experience!

email us thecreativehours@gmail.com  or post using hashtag #TCHblue


Further reading and supplies:


Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers : With the Void, Full Powers includes examples from all of Klein’s major series, including his Anthropometries, Cosmogonies, fire paintings, planetary reliefs and blue monochromes, as well as selections of his lesser-known gold and pink monochromes, body and sponge reliefs, “air architecture” and immaterial works.

 

Over Coming the Problems of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein The first complete collection of the writings of the visionary French conceptual artist Yves Klein (1928–1962) published in English translation.

 

 

Ultramarine Blue Pigment Oxide Mineral Powder Life is short, paint everything blue.  It is fascinating to think about the relationship between raw pigment and paint.

Thinking and the Creative Process

“My process is thinking, thinking and thinking—thinking about my stories for a long time. If you have a better way, please let me know.”–Hayao Miyazaki

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity…You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things” – Ray Bradbury

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try.”–Dr. Seuss

“My process is thinking, thinking and thinking—thinking about my stories for a long time. If you have a better way, please let me know,” says Hayao Miyazaki, and of course, how could there be a better way if you look at the result of Miyazaki’s thinking? Hayao Miyazaki is the creator of some of the most astonishing and beautiful films of our time, a master of animation. You’ll recognize them: My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and so many more.

 

If you read the conflicting ideas about creation and thinking at the start of this blog post, it’s clear Bradbury is implying a great enmity between thinking and doing, that the thinking gets in the way of the doing. He’s in the School of Perspiration. Miyazaki is in the School of Inspiration. It’s impossible, of course, that Bradbury never thought, or that Miyazaki never did, but what they see themselves doing is very different. And of course Dr. Seuss thinking of thinking as play and invention.

I went to art school in New York for just one semester, then dropped out. The professors in my classes had us working on abstraction, and conceptual art, and I felt that I didn’t have anything to say. I was 18, I had more to learn, I didn’t know about history, or life, or society, or what I believed. I didn’t even know what questions to ask. I had urges and inklings and guesses, but nothing I felt confident enough to make art out of. I wanted skills, mostly, and so I enrolled in figure drawing classes, and classes that focused on technique, the chemistry of paint, the use of different media, but eventually I dropped out and became an English major, because, at the time, I needed more thinking.

The other thing that irritated me, once I became an English major and took some creative writing courses, was the “write garbage” type assignments where you were meant to just do it, write bad stuff, anything that came into your head, especially if you were stuck, just write. I did them, and wrote down a lot of garbage, and never got anything good out of them. Maybe you did. Did you?

On the other hand, children make great art just by doing. They don’t think, they do and do, make and make, wasting shocking amounts of paper and art supplies, indifferent to quality, but fearlessly making art in a state of playful, Seussian quasi-thinking. Our culture is very action-oriented, and most of us adults are focused on Getting Things Done, laboring mightily to get straight A’s in the School of Perspiration. But in our go-go-go daily life, the common-sensical thing is to hew to Miyazaki’s method, and spend our precious free time thinking, thinking and thinking after endless days of doing.

What’s a thoughtful creative person to do? It’s not a matter of either/or, it’s how much of either, and sensing what you need to do at the time, think or write/paint/create.


This creative exercise is inspired by the tension between thinking and doing in the process of bringing out our creativity:

DOING? or THINKING? a creative process exercise

  1. Go to your art-making place.
  2. Make art. Do.
  3. If that doesn’t feel right, or you’re not getting anywhere, think instead. Keep thinking until you’re ready to do.
  4. Do.
  5. Tell us what happened at thecreativehours@gmail.com

Further Reading:

Starting Point: 1979-1996. Miyazaki started out as just another animator, but in this memoir tells of his journey from childhood dreams to founding Studio Ghibli.

 

 

Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. A documentary about Studio Ghibli, featuring Miyazaki, Producer Toshio Suzuki, Ghibli’s other director, Isao Takahata

What Impressionism can teach us about being alive

Impressionism is culture’s blockbuster. Dreamy and oh so pretty, it is easy to forget its rebel roots, and amazing to fathom how the desire for artists to essentially cut class and go out into the sunshine started a chain of innovation that led to abstraction, modernism and onwards.

“Beauty in art is truth bathed in an impression received from nature”  -Corot

"Lesson in the Garden" by Berthe Morrisot
“Lesson in the Garden” by Berthe Morisot

In the late 1800’s, the “Impressionist” artists, including Monet, Cézanne, Morisot, Pissarro, Degas, Renoir and Sissley, were fed up with the authoritarian nature of the Parisian art world. They were disillusioned with traditionalism in art and uninterested in mythological or historical subject matter. These artists were loath to sit inside the Academie’s classrooms and train their skills through mimetic and reverent exercises. To boot, they found the emphasis on minute brushwork and stylistic polish to be a bore.

This motley crew of artists preferred to work outside,“en plein air”, and to let observation be their greatest teacher.

“‘Impressionism’ was the name given to a certain form of observation when Monet, not content with using his eyes to see what things were or what they looked like as everybody had done before him, turned his attention to noting what took place on his own retina (as an oculist would test his own vision).”   -John Singer Sargent

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“Haystacks” by Claude Monet

While rough impressions, or sketches used to be an early step in creating a masterpiece, these artists recognized that the imprints were an end unto themselves.  They saw the vitality in essences and perception and sought to capture the ever-shifting nuances of light, air and color that render one spot endlessly new to observe. They tried to see without commentary, and to let the colors tell the stories.  I love Mallarmé’s impression of Impressionism:

“The idea was that ‘nothing should be absolutely fixed’.. ..so that the bright gleam which lights the picture, or the diaphanous shadow which veils it, are only seen in passing, in the actual moment during which the viewer looks at the scene, which, composed as it is of reflected and ever-changing lights, palpitates with movement, light and life.”  -Stephane Mallarmé

After nearly a decade of being shut out from the official juried art exhibitions, and after many thwarted efforts to get government support for alternative exhibitions, the artists banded together to organize their own show, which they held at photographer Nadar’s studio in 1874. The exhibition caused a stir and attracted a huge audience. Among the works exhibited, the one by Claude Monet, titled “Sunrise, an Impression” garnered the most attention (not all positive).  From his painting and its title, the category of the “Impressionists” sprung, first as a critique, then as an identity, and now as a sacred honor.

"Sunrise, An Impression", Claude Monet
“Sunrise, An Impression” by Claude Monet

This creative exercise is inspired by Impressionism, and in particular by Monet’s wise words about looking and painting:

“When you go out to paint try to forget what object you have before you – a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact colour and shape, until it emerges as your own naive impression of the scene before you.” -Claude Monet

VIEWS FROM THE WINDOW a drawing and observing exercise

  1. Gather paper and markers (I’ve suggested some types below)
  2. Choose a window in your house with your favorite view
  3. Try sketching your impression of the view
  4. Remember to looking out the window more than you look down at your paper
  5. Do this whenever you have the chance, and at different times during the day
  6. Keep your drawings fast and loose
  7. Draw what you see, not what you think you see
  8. Share your drawings with #TCHimpressions or send them to thecreativehours@gmail.com

TIP: Resist the urge to name what you are drawing, hold your pen with a loose grip and most importantly: don’t judge! Just enjoy, observe and feel alive.


Further Reading and Supplies:

MONET, The Triumph of Impressionism Both an insightful biography, and a book of prints, this book shares the wonder of Claude Monet

 

 

IMPRESSIONISM, Reimagining Art  This beautiful book looks at Impressionism on a global scale, from its iconic French masterpieces to less familiar works by Scandinavian, German, British, and North American artists.

 

 

Tombow Dual Brush Pens I LOVE these pens.  Great for impressionistic and lush drawing styles.  This is a secondary color set, which I find beautiful, but there are also primary and portrait sets.

 

 

Strathmore Artist Tiles Bristol is a smooth and lovely surface for letting makers glide and play.  Square paper tiles are a nice proportion for quick impressions.

 

 

Imogene Cunningham and the Blind Sculptor

I find Cunningham’s 1952 portrait “Blind Sculptor” beautiful. Photographer Imogene Cunningham was a glorious treasure to the world in so many ways, and I am excited to talk about her specialness- but first I want to explain what I love about this picture.

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“Blind Sculptor”

Let me start with the presence of touch in the photograph. Look how solidly the sculptor’s left hand cups the shoulder of his creation. In that touch I see the fatherly weight of an artist’s hand as it reassures his creation of its physical actuality. I feel the coolness of the clay, and imagine the contour beneath the sculptor’s ringed pinky-finger. His right hand is Pygmalion- and I am privy to an intimate moment of caressing and exploration. The figure’s head tilts upward with pride, and the artist’s head points down in concentration, inviting me into the hidden picture of his imagination. Then notice the figure’s giant hands which, wrapped Cycladic style, also seem to be confirming its own physicality. Poignantly, the figure has no eyes to speak of.

All photographs speak about the act of sight and creation. What makes this work particularly poetic is the juxtaposition of blindness and visual art- both in regards to sculpture and the photographic medium.

“The formula for doing a good job in photography, is to think like a poet” – Imogene Cunningham

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Born in 1883 in Oregon, Imogen Cunningham was a dynamic spirit who braved the sexist tides of her time, and became one of the most innovative and revered photographers of the twentieth century. She came to photography through studying science and processes for developing film.  Her work is known for her sensual images of botany, the body and portraits of other artists, as well as experiments in double exposure. She used the technique of Platinum printing, which gave her work a soft and silvery signature style. Her sense of adventure and passion for her work stayed with her all of her life. She died in 1976 at the age of 95.

“Blind Sculptor” is one of many portraits that Cunningham did of other photographers, musicians and artists.  I wish I knew more about the astonishing artist in “Blind Sculptor”, but I was unable to find this information.

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“One must be able to gain an understanding at short notice and close range of the beauties of character, intellect, and spirit so as to be able to draw out the best qualities and make them show in the outer aspect of the sitter. To do this one must not have a too pronounced notion of what constitutes beauty in the external and, above all, must not worship it. To worship beauty for its own sake is narrow, and one surely cannot derive from it that esthetic pleasure which comes from finding beauty in the commonest things.” – Imogen Cunningham

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CREATIVE PROMPT: GET TO KNOW A FLOWER

This creative exercise draws on Cunningham’s photographs of flowers and plants, which were inspired by the demands of motherhood and the  proximity of her own garden.

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TIP: Digital photography is fantastic for experimentation. Go wild, it costs nothing. Then you can look back at see what you think works or doesn’t work in the pictures that you took

Share your pictures!

Post them with hashtag #TCHflora or send them to thecreativehours@gmail.com


Further reading and supplies:
Imogen Cunningham, This publication celebrates the rich diversity of this modernist pioneer, covering Cunningham’s entire seven-decade career–from her abstract shots of plants and nudes and optical illusions created using techniques such as inverted positive/negative images and double exposure, to her iconic portraits for Vanity Fair of artists, dancers, actors, musicians and writers such as Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz, Martha Graham, Frida Kahlo, Gertrude Stein, Morris Graves and Merce Cunningham.
Imogen Cunningham 1883-1976, Spanning all the genres used in her work, the book presents the images which marked Cunningham as one of the early pioneers of the photographic medium from her 1920’s plant images to her speciality, portraiture.

 

 After Ninety: Imogen Cunningham, Previously unpublished photographic portraits as well as selections from Imogen Cunningham’s earlier work confront the condition of old age and testify to the wisdom, dignity, despair, and loneliness of the elderly.

 

Imogen: The Mother of Modernism and Three Boys, by Amy Novesky.  Here, then, is the story of Imogen Cunningham, one of the finest photographers of the 20th century and mother to three boys.

 

 

Genguine Fotodiox DIY Lomo Camera, Twin Lens Reflex, TLR Camera Kit (68 Pieces, with Detailed Instructions, Uses 35mm 24 Exposure B&W or Color Film).  Build your own camera!

Georgia O’Keeffe, her barrel of bones, and finding your thing

Art fairs are now everywhere, all the time.  The pressure is always on, and I think I should move my studio to Siberia or the desert.

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Georgia O’Keeffe found her escape from the noise when, in her forties, she discovered the Great Southwest. Already a successful painter who was recognized for her closely framed flowers, O’Keeffe sought new subject matter and distance from a complex romance with photographer Alfred Steiglitz. In 1929 she found in New Mexico what she described as:

such a beautiful, untouched lonely feeling place, such a fine part of what I call the ‘Faraway’

She would spend the next decade traveling back and forth from New Mexico to New York and Lake George. Eventually she made a permanent relocation to Abiquiú, where she would live and paint until her death at 98.

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For me, the magic of O’Keeffe lies in opposites. Joan Didion described her as “simply hard”, and copious photo documentation concurs- she is American’s Marlboro Woman. Her radiant paintings, however, with their wavering forms evoke the very softest of experiences. Georgia O’Keeffe was a paradox: blunt and the same time swept away by mystery; solo and yet entwined with lovers. When speaking of her art she managed to be mystical and contrarian all at once and when making art she found the infinity by zeroing in.

Georgia’s mind reveals to us that the ineffable and the concrete are not in conflict. In her own beautiful words

“abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can clarify in paint.”

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New Mexico was her place. The land felt right, the light felt right, and the beauty resonated with her deeply. She tooled around in a Model A Ford, which also doubled as a painting studio, and took frequent rambling walks.  O’Keeffe began collecting skulls, bones and pieces of the desert that she could take with her. By the end of her first few summers there, she had filled the Ghost Ranch windowsills with feathers and finds. She had also amassed a barrel of bones, which became the source materials for her series of iconic bone paintings.

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It seems that  world has always pined to see her work through Freudian and symbolic lenses: wanting to understand her flowers as sexual, and her skulls as morbid and so on. Georgia rejected all that.  In this inspiring video Georgia O’Keeffe sets the record straight about the story of the bones:

“People think they are about death.  They are not about death.  They are simply shapes that please me.”


This creative exercise, inspired by Georgia’s barrel of bones, is about careful observation of shape and form.  It is also about discovering inspiration and paying homage to what simply pleases you.

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FIND YOUR THINGS: A COLLECTION OF SHAPES

  1. Select a home for your collection- window sill, dresser top, shelf etc.
  2. Think about a type of objects pleases or interests you- bottles, feathers, wires etc.
  3. Keep a look-out for these things – in your house, on the street, in the woods
  4.  Build a collection over time
  5. Admire your objects. Look closely, relish the peculiarities, enjoy the whole
  6. Take a picture of your collection and share it #TCHCollection or email to thecreativehours@gmail.com

 

Further reading:

Georgia by Dawn Tripp, A recently released work of historic fiction that paints a picture of Georgia O’Keeffe’s early life, her romantic involvement with Alfred Stieglitz and her journey against odds to establish herself as an independent and successful artist.

 

 

Georgia O’Keeffe and the Camera: The Art of Identity, produced by the Portland Museum of Art, this book brings together a lifetime of portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe from artists and photographers including: Warhol, Stieglitz and Webb.

 

 

Portrait of an Artist: Georgia O’Keeffe by Laurie Lisle,
Georgia O’Keeffe, an excellent biography of one of the most original painters America has ever produced, who left behind a remarkable legacy when she died at the age of ninety-eight. Her vivid visual vocabulary had a stunning, profound, and lasting influence on American art.

Matisse, and how creativity keeps you young

In the spirit of leap years, daylight savings and the possibility of stretching time, I am saluting the visionary Henri Matisse.

This glorious Frenchman understood that his purpose as an artist was to “recapture that freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it”. Driven by this goal, Matisse was able to tap into beauty, simplicity, and visual joy in a way that few others have been able to.

His story is inspiring. As a struggling artist, Matisse’s first foothold in the history of art was at the turn of the Century as part of the Fauvist moveent in painting. “Les Fauves” (wild beasts) took the liberties of Impressionism a step further by proposing brash colors and interpretations that strayed from literal representation. Throughout the stylistic waves of Cubism, Surrealism, and Dada, and despite his close relationships with Picasso, Derain, and others formidable artists of the 20th Century, Matisse drove forward his love for effulgent color and distilled composition with independent integrity.

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Towards the end of his life, Matisse was diagnosed with a grave illness which placed him in a wheelchair and threatened to end his art career. In lieu of defeat, he traded in his canvases and brushes for a pair of scissors, sheets of paper and a couple of lovely assistants. Matisse reveled in the liberating nature of his new process, and its essential purpose. “You see, as I am obliged to remain often in bed because of the state of my health, I have made a little garden all around me where I can walk… There are leaves, fruits, a bird.” This resourceful pivot towards ease and play gave Matisse a new lease on life and the cut-outs that resulted are some of the most influential and beloved works by the artist.

Watch this rare snippet of Matisse, letting his scissors steer the winding landscape of a piece of paper.

This gorgeous video is revealing: while his cuts are clearly masterful- confident, controlled, and visionary, they also bely a childlike nature. Matisse then holds up tendrils of paper, and tries to divine the future that lies within those messy curls. Next we see him shuffling shapes on a blank page- basically a child at play with toys in his sandbox.

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Creativity is the spirit of play. It is the ability to keep an openness and an innocence and to let things be easy. No matter how young or old you are, how healthy or sick, or how teeny-weeny your living space is, or whatever else you believe impedes you, creativity is the fountain of youth.

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The great Irish Playwright, Bernard Shaw once said “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”


Here is a simple creative exercise inspired by Matisse’s cutouts

Happy Paper Squiggle

1. You need 1 sheet of paper (white or a color), scissors and a pushpin

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2.  Using organic curves (no straight lines or sharp angles), let your scissors make an ongoing squiggly line in the paper. Don’t over think. Just let the scissors and the paper do the work.

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3. Try to keep line going as long as you can and touch all regions of your paper

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4.  Find a good point with which to hold up your coil of cut paper
5.  Pin it on your wall
6. Observe the beautiful shapes and rhythms that it makes
7. You can repeat this several times. Using colorful paper, these can make very happy wall decorations to enjoy.
8. Photograph your work and share it  with #tchcutout, or send it to:  thecreativehours@gmail.com

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Further reading:

Matisse on Art by Jack Flam compiles the major writings of Henri Matisse. Flam provides an astute biography, and shares his reflections on the development of Matisse’s aesthetic values and theories.

 

 

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs by MOMA was published in conjunction with the most comprehensive show of Matisse’s cut-out works, which were first created in the early 1940s and were made until the artist’s death in 1954.

 

The Unknown Matisse by Hillary Spurling tells of his early years in a gloomy French Village, discovering himself as a Fauvist and artist, the scandal that almost destroyed his career, and his fight back to life and the vivid joy of his paintings.

 

 

John Cage and The Art of Listening

Inspired by our launch of The Creative Hours, I’ve been compiling a diverse collection of practices that nurture creativity. Tools, rituals and exercises from around the world, across disciplines, and from the nether regions of my own noggin, that are aimed to foster fluidity, imagination, innovation and play. It struck me that a good portion of my collection was dedicated not to making and doing, but rather observing and listening.

Learning how to pay close attention and be receptive is a foundation for creative thinking.

No one embodies this principle better than artist and Buddhist, John Cage. His beloved book Silence: Lectures and Writings is both charming and profound.  I highly recommend keeping it near for creative inspiration and grounding. It is a wise book that never grows old, and offers itself for fruitful rereading again and again.

John Cage
John Cage

Composer, writer, and artist and music theorist, John Cage is considered one of the major American creatives of the 20th Century. He pioneered ways of thinking about sound, silence, instruments, composition and chance.  Also influential in the world of dance, Cage was life long partners with the equally seminal choreographer Merce Cunningham.


For our first creative practice on The Creative Hours, let’s channel John Cage. This exercise pays homage to his his passion for the world of sound and draws from his artistic commitment to mindful listening:

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THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE: LISTENING  MEDITATION   

  1. Find a private moment in your day, and a tranquil spot. Close your eyes. Breathe Deeply.  
  2. Start to turn your attention to the soundscape that surrounds you. Notice the many threads and types of sound.
  3. Start by focusing on the sounds that are farthest away. Do you hear cars humming, wind blowing, an airplane or the buzz of lives spinning outside. Spend one minute carefully finding and listening to these “in the distance” noises. You do not need to name or comment on the sounds, but simply to pay close attention. Stay listening for a minute or so.
  4. Next listen for the nearby sounds that are in your immediate sphere. Let the far away sounds recede, and listen carefully to the composition of sounds around you. Listen to tone, quality, pitch, rhythm of all the different ambient noises. The rumble of the refrigerator, the ticking of a clock, the rustling of a pet. Again, just listen for a minute or so.
  5. Finally, shift your focus inward, and try to listen to the sounds within your own body.  Hear your heartbeat, your stomach growl, your breath rise and fall. See if you might even be able to hear your brain churning or your blood flowing. Stay attentive to the smallest details and feelings. Stay listening for a minute or so.
  6. Take a deep breath and open your eyes. Notice how you feel. Take stock of your body, breath, your emotional state.
  7. What did you notice? Experience? Share your reflections #TCHlistening or email them to thecreativehours@gmail.com

This is a wonderful and grounding meditation to do before you begin a creative practice. It puts you in a sensitive and receptive state- a great state for letting the creative process flow.

Further reading: 

Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage

First published in 1961, Silence is a wise and whimsical collection of Cage’s essays and lectures.  In keeping with John Cage’s experimental approach, many of the pieces feature poetic methods of presentation or composition.

 

John Cage: Visual Art, To Sober and Quiet the Mind by Kathan Brown

A treasure of a book featuring 116 color images.  This exquisite book features Cage’s sublime chance made drawings, and Brown’s insight into his work and the role that art can play in this world.