Being Willing To Be Silly: a matter of life or death

I am in the thick of it with The Creative Hours, and am loving the process of research and reflection. Nonetheless, all this deep thinking about creativity reminds me that it is essential to keep a sense of humor about the whole shebang.  On that note, I hope you enjoy Groucho Marx’s line from Animal Crackers as much as I do. I may adopt it as a motto for this blog:

“Well, art is art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh… now you tell me what you know.” – Groucho Marx

Being willing to be silly is an essential ingredient to creative flow and the survival of an artistic soul. Making fun of oneself, turning reality on its head, and flirting with the lack of meaning is a way of keeping the blood flowing and the molecules dancing.  I’d go as far as to say that being at play is the opposite of deathly stasis.

Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity for humor. – Stewart Brown, MD,  Psychiatrist

While play is a no laughing matter, it is conversely true that humor touches the very deepest of human truths. Richard Avedon reflects this in his SERIOUSLY beautiful portraits of iconic comedians.

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Groucho Marx by Richard Avedon
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Buster Keaton by Richard Avedon
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Charlie Chaplin by Richard Avedon

Further Reading and Supplies:

Richard Avedon Photographs Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946-2004 includes 125 reproductions of Avedon’s greatest work from the entire range of his oeuvre-including fashion photographs, reportage and portraits-and spans from his early Italian subjects of the 1940s to his 2004 portrait of the Icelandic pop star Bjork.

 

The Groucho Letters: from and to Groucho Marx   The Groucho Letters reveals one of the twentieth century’s greatest comedian’s private insights into show biz, politics, business, and, of course, his illustrious personal life.

 

 

Official Groucho Glasses. Get seriously silly, pronto!

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.