“The trap exists because of the fish; once you’ve gotten the fish, you can forget the trap…. Words exist because of the meaning; once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words.”1
Chuang-tzu, Chinese philosopher
This used to be how I felt about writing. Even when I took up creative writing, I thought it was all about the content… and it’s not.
Getting to the meaning of one’s words is not the only reason why we listen.
We create to bring form to ideas, and this, I believe, is all about style.
I understand there’s a major difference between linguistic expression and visual expression. The first uses symbols (letters of the alphabet and the words they make) to guide you to conjure up the ideas in mind, while the latter provides a physical structure to show you an idea at play.
But both can show how one sees the world.
Imagine I am looking at a photograph of a model, X.
Initially, I got lost in the details and tried to copy X more precisely, but I stepped away for a day and when I looked at it again, I realized I had smoothed over all the nuances. It was static like a rock.
I often tell myself to “always know what you’re looking at,” but in this case, I decided to refer to a thumbnail of the original, so I could see again what initially made me decide to choose the image. I decided the goal is not to draw X, per se, but to get ideas about what is a “good line.” Or, overall, I am making note of what makes X pretty.
This approach is especially useful when thinking about automatic drawing, because with automatic drawing, the challenge is to maintain variation, to avoid making it look like patterns on a wall. Looking all around me, I see “pretty lines” and beautiful color compositions everywhere and realize I can use almost everything as a resource. I just have to like what I see.
When I picked up drawing the pursuit of a “pretty line” was a gateway into the visual arts, and a year later I wanted to utilize more color, but I couldn’t see where other artists were getting there ideas (color schemes) from.
Intuitively, I knew that you have to enjoy something to bring it into your work… or I should say you have to know what you like to gauge the progress of your work… to know that you’re achieving what you want to achieve.
Okay, it’s not so simple, but then again, creative work doesn’t need to be precise.
Style is personal and subjective.
I don’t want to reduce the creative process to a matter of taste, because one’s approach and intent also influence one’s choices, but at the same time I am guided by my sense of taste with almost every choice I make in the creation of a work.
On the other hand, I think it’s important to develop a sense of what your choices will be. I want to go beyond relying on “taste” and have a better sense of what I’m doing. This might have more to do with purpose or some reflection on what I’ve already done which might motivate me to continue or respond in some way to what I’ve done.
IV Intuition and Taste
Intuition, I believe, is the subconscious culling of lessons learned and applying knowledge I might not be conscious of, while taste is a matter of what is pleasing to me. The latter is a product of my personal experience and my current frame of mind. You apply intuition and you respond to taste.
I’ve been breaking down the idea of being creatively blocked, at least for myself. I had to first see my overall work as going beyond any individual work. Being aware of my own frame of mind helps me change my approach from following how I feel to being conscious of the idea I’m responding to, asking questions and observing the idea at play.
Seeing my creative process as a way to explore, I had a silly notion that the more I know the less creative I would be. I say silly because I couldn’t possibly run out of things to explore. Moreover, being creative is equally driven by a desire to express oneself.
I think about how artists might go through multiple phases throughout one’s career, and I don’t think a change in one’s approach or intent for one’s work will necessarily change one’s style… or there will be something left of oneself in every work.
When thinking about the style of a given artist, I ask myself, Do I see the same artist in one’s early work as I do in one’s later work?
It is important to know what I want to get out of being creative.
Overall, being creative is a way for me to think freely, and to do this, I have to see more and know more. I have to live my life. I have to engage with the world around me.
Of course, I don’t have to do everything all at once. I can manage my creative impulses on my own terms.
I believe there is a balance between engaging with others and being honest with what one shares.
1 This is from the introduction of Jerome Silbergeld’s Chinese Painting Style, and Silbergeld is using a translation taken from Burton Watson’s The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, published in 1970 by Columbia University Press, p 302.