Creative Demand

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My desk for the illustrated Dante notes project. My main reference is a 1944 Illustrated Modern Library edition, with amazing pictures by George Grosz

“A creative person must convince the field.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

Another open studio? Another First Friday?  Really? My current new project is a series of illustrated notebook pages on Dante’s Inferno and the Underworld.  Not really a high demand there, unless perhaps you are a dead person of the 13th century.  For years I have struggled with the ideas of supply and demand in art.  I saw demand as a corrupting influence, producing Thomas Kincaid cottages, pet rocks, and social media addiction.

“What limits creativity is not the lack of good new memes (i.e., ideas, products, works of art), but the lack of interest in them.  The constraint is not in the supply but in the demand.”

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Suzanne Edminster, illustrated notes on Dante, Canto VI. Cerberus was not only a dog, but a snake/serpent monster, a part of the mythic genetics often omitted today.

I know and work with so many amazing artists, most of them unfairly obscure, in my SOFA Santa Rosa neighborhood.  We are everywhere, and we are creating.  The supply is high. You could argue that perhaps we have saturated Sonoma County with our good work.

Csikszentmihalyi says that perhaps the limitations of creativity come from scarcity of attention for the products. “Unfortunately, most attempts to enhance creativity are focused on the supply side, which may not only not work but is likely to make life more miserable for a great number of neglected geniuses.”

He goes on to say, “But usually the necessity of ‘selling’ one’s ideas is seen as something that comes after the creative process ends and is separate from it.  In the systems model, the acceptance of a new meme by the field is seen as an essential part of the creative process [my italics].

This gives me hope.  I always knew there was something wrong with the neglected genius / Van Gogh model, birthing beauty into a silent or hostile void.  I hope that I can joyfully enter the creative stream anywhere, either creating new art or by readying the field for it. Thanks, Mihaly.

More frequent posts

I’ll be posting several times a week now, probably.  Fair warning!  These messages are part of my own creative process.  Later I’ll offer a monthly newsletter format.

If you’re going through an Underworld passage right now– as our whole country is– stay safe.  I’ve seen and heard a lot more random racism and everyday hostility around me than usual.  The decay at the top and the inaccessibility to universal health care is wearing us out.

Suzanne

Saltworkstudio Events and Classes 2019

SOFA Santa Rosa First Fridays 2019, 5-8 PM.  Informal open studios neighborhood-wide. Find me in Backstreet Gallery, down Art Alley behind 312 South A Street, Santa Rosa, CA.  Map here.

First Friday, March 1, 5-8 PM.  Selected SOFA art studios are open; I am.  Drop by to chat.

 

Crawling under the earth, leaning into the wind

I saw “Leaning into the Wind” with Andy Goldsworthy yesterday.  In my mind it was superimposed upon my current obsession with Paleolithic art and signs.  Goldsworthy seemed to me to be a shamanic figure, making lines and markets upon the earth with clay and rocks, like our unimaginably distant ancestors.  Who were us.

He climbed into trees a lot; this could have a relationship to the practice of “climbing the world tree,” one of the ways the ancients visualized entering the spirit world.  His body was part of the art.  It’s also interesting to me that the few colors he did use, from leaves, petals, or perhaps natural earth pigments, were deep yellow and red.   The use of ochre, often heated to produce an even more striking red color, is the first evidence of differentiated color preference in early humans.  Goldsworthy spent a lot of time breaking stones, which reminded me of our first tools, the chipped stone hand axes.  He made grave-like stone sleeping hollows and tomb-like tunnels.

Red ochre was used to make signs, dots and forms in the deepest, smallest passages, some of them hardly more than animal burrows.  I am reading “The First Signs” by Genevieve von Petzinger.  She has spent years crawling through dripping, muddy, claustrophobic passages recording abstract graphic forms.  Mud was everywhere in Leaning Into the Wind, along with streaming walls, slick pavements and goopy clay mixed with human hair.

The movie’s soundtrack is as compelling and hypnotic as the film.   Goldsworthy talks transparently about his own evolution as an artist.  For some people,  preferring the Goldsworthy of sixteen years ago in Rivers and Tides, it might prove more of a “Dylan goes electric” letdown.  I found it trance-like and moving.  Have you ever had one of those dreams where you work hard in your dream all night and wake up tired?  The film produces an effect like that.  Recommended.  Currently at the Summerfield, at 3:45 only.

 

Metaphoracards: Creativity Meets Intuition

How do you get that authentic, intuitive creativity going?  When I’m stuck, I make a Metaphoracard.

Metaphoracards, Suzanne Edminster, Saltworkstudio
A sample of the Metaphoracards I’ve made over the years. You can too!

It’s not news that small collages can unleash a big creative flow.  The Surrealists used collage as an alternate language.  Austin Kleon recommends collage, even little messy ones like the Metaphoracards, for coming unstuck.  Maybe even especially the little messy ones, the imperfect ones, the ones that will never see the inside of a gallery.

Suzanne Edminster Metaphoracard Camp Winnarainbow (14)
Cow who would be Queen

Laura Foster Corben and I invented Metaphoracards as a play activity for Wavy Gravy’s Camp Winnarainbow Adult Camp.  We would take the cards the group made and tell fortunes with them.  We wanted to stay out of the territory of the serious, archetypal, and therapeutic, and instead encourage play.   But even before that I made series of small collages one summer with my friend David Short.  In looking through them, I don’t know now which of us made them– but we had a grand time.

Suzanne Edminster Metaphoracard Camp Winnarainbow (2)
Folly Pups

 

Collage is communal.  It’s trashy and it violates rules because it rips and tears stuff.  It releases energy, especially when it is done for itself alone, with no desire to show it publicly.   It’s totally stealing images, and so it is mercurial and a bit sleazy.  I never show my Metaphoracards in public because someone else– many others, in fact– made the individual images I stole.

Suzanne Edminster Metaphoracard Camp Winnarainbow (16)
A favorite. Strong Man

Collage also invites synchronicity and magic.  Austin Kleon writes about how artists cultivate messiness, precisely so that the unexpected can appear.    I have begun to think that even collecting images in advance to use later “kills” them, because they no longer exist in the moment.

Amuse Grove Camp Winnarainbow 2012
Instead of the Muse Grove, the Amuse Grove.

How are Metaphoracards different than other forms of small collage?  Well, we paint first. Getting your own hand and colors on the surface first claims it much better than a glossy cutout background, no matter how beautiful.  And it’s so much better if it IS a we, a group, because image finding is best done communally, through a large, messy pile. There are also no words and no suits.  With Metaphoracards, you’re always playing with a full deck!

If done randomly enough— which is no easy thing– the cards catch a message to deliver both to the maker, and to the group around it.  It’s like they are little nets that catch a fragment of the zeitgeist of the present.

And, by the way, they blow dynamite into any creative blockages you might have.  I like to make them at the start of the year, to mystify myself.  I love to try to figure out what the heck they mean.  And they endure as a source of pleasure for many years to come.

You don’t need to take a class to make them, but I’ll be doing a Metaphoracard Class on Saturday, February 24.  In the meantime, why not try a random collage with stuff on hand around you?  The little spark that is creative intuition will flare up.  You’ll see.

And if you can interpret any of the card photos here, let me know! Happy Valentine’s Day!  Remember making our own valentines in the old days?  These are like Valentines from the collective unconscious.

Have fun,   Suzanne

A Heavenly Lake of Beer: St. Brigid’s Day Blessing

I publish this each year at this time to remind us of great lakes of beer, lambs, groundhogs, milkmaids, and miracles.  This includes St. Brigid’s Blessing, well worth reading.  Tired of groundhog day?  Celebrate St. Brigid instead.

Saint Patrick, meet your better half!
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  Brigid is a jolly saint of babies, poets, cows, scholars, travelers, and beer (the last attribution mine).  She’s a vernal saint associated with the green fire of rising spring energy. Her Day is February 2,  Imbolc. In Celtic mythology this the beginning of pre-spring, lambing, and lactation… birth and milk in the animal folk. She is a patron Saint of milk and milk givers, beast and human.

Groundhog Day was formerly Bear Day.  It’s time for us all to come out of the winter hibernation now.  Artists, this means you.  And in this year of drought,  a bit of St. Brigid’s spring rain would be very healing.

She studied under St. Patrick, founded her own convent, and tended the poor.  Some– I am one– think that she surpassed him in his time.

I often do series cow series that I associate with her, but what I love about her is this list of her best and deepest wishes for the world.  Read through to the last two lines, then get yourself a brewsky.

I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us.
I would like an abundance of peace.
I would like full vessels of charity.
I would like rich treasures of mercy.
I would like cheerfulness to preside over all.
I would like Jesus to be present.
I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts.
I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me.
I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.

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From Camino to Collaboration

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Four Hands Painting Exhibit Information and Facebook Invitation
Dear Friends,

This is a belated thank-you note for following me on my Camino  journey, both inner and outer. Many of you have asked how the Camino has changed me. I am just three months out of it now, and have resumed my art life. Events have “followed fast and followed faster,” as Edgar Allen Poe would say.

What changes are showing up at this point after the Camino?  I feel lighter and more complete with my life as it is.  I am more able to celebrate who I am, rather than mourning who or what I don’t have, or focusing overmuch on my mistakes.  This change seems subtle but profound.  I have created some new paintings, filled with gold leaf and gold light, that  may have emerged from the many gilded churches of Spain. Projects are coming to completion, including the Four Hands Painting collaboration with knockout artist and close friend Susan Cornelis.  Our show is called The Golden Thread– the thread that leads us out of the labyrinth.

It’s not all sweetness and light, though.  My world seems to be full of beautiful, artistic women who have contracted cancer.  If I were the kind of person who reads omens– and you know I am– I would say that life is issuing a kind of Carpe Diem announcement, a Tempus Fugit warning.   I remember the wonderful Franciscan chapel of Rome filled with little skulls and hourglasses of time flying by, made of browned bones mounted on sky-blue crypt walls.  Scott and I visited this crypt, and I was surprised at the beauty and delicacy of the art.  Part of my life feels like this.. a skull with butterfly wings.skull with wings

So what’s it to be?  Bliss or bones or golden thread,  skull or butterfly wings, or some delicate combination of all these?

I’m glad to be on the road with you again.    This time, the road is my life. Yours, Suzanne

Jung, Creativity and Play

Europa, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic on canvas, 36" x 36"
Europa, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 36″

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” 

C.G. Jung, from Psychological Types

This quote made me pause.  When we lose play, and give it over to force, we lose our contact with the creative world.  On the other hand, the “inner necessity” has to include work and bringing the play or fantasy to  fruition.

“The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”  This painting is called Europa.  I wanted somehow to play with the Greek myth of the bull swimming with an abducted river maiden— and play simultaneously with abstract form.  I experienced both these desires in a visceral, childlike way.  I wanted to physically play with the figures in the myth, like playing with dolls or action figures, and I wanted to splash paint and watch it pool and run.   The two plays came together in this painting.  (Sometimes they don’t.)

This painting, an abstract mythic narrative, will be shown at The Gallery of Sea and Heaven in their upcoming  Myth and Legend show opening February 16.  They took two paintings.  The other one is a private narrative , where the visuals construct a strange story; it did not exist until I collaged it.  In other words, there’s definitely a story, but I don’t know exactly what it means, like the  stories and plots of dreams.

I think of Jung with his Tower on the lake and his mandalas.  He loved to play, and having a rich wife didn’t hurt the cause of “playing” with architecture .  When we play, we always trust that the practicalities of survival will take care of themselves, like children. What “objects” do you love to play with?

Six Phases of Creativity

Worktable with 3 “Drafts” for Larger Paintings, Saltworkstudio

Where am I now?  What’s next?

I’ve been incubating this Dionysian series for a while. I have three 2 foot by 4 foot canvases waiting for paint to develop these themes, colors, and forms.  The starts shown above are meant to act as “thumbnails’ for the next phase of larger paintings on canvas.

I have the best luck with my finished pieces when I am purposely experimental, uncontrolled, and unfinished in my draft paintings. I’m groping in my own darkness when I paint.  I don’t want the whole process to happen even before I hit the canvas.  I don’t want  to pre-paint it in my head, my notebook, or anywhere else.

I found a useful new metaphor for thinking about any creative project, whether it’s painting or cleaning out the junk room. These ideas are from The Path of the Everyday Hero,  a book about mythic themes played out in life.  The six phases of creativity are preparation, frustration, incubation, strategizing, illumination, and verification (or manifestation).

Dignified, precise language allows us to reframe creative pauses or lapses. It’s interesting that frustration comes immediately after preparation, right at the start.  Frustration is the failure stage, the belly of the whale, the so-called “block”. What now?

My friend Karina Nishi Marcus is very clear on the idea that “block” should be eliminated from the artist’s vocabulary.  She says creativity is more related to nature metaphors, like “low tide” for the ocean, or “fallow” for the land.  It is a necessary part of the creative process.

“Noble Bull”, acrylic combined media, Suzanne Edminster

Frustration stops us from action, and makes us incubate our ideas, like an egg.  It’s on the back burner, in the nest, warming, passive on the surface but active underneath, mysterious, the seed under the ground.  To incubate properly we also need to strategize, to try things that might nourish or warm the invisible idea.   Some might work, some not.  But the passive time is needed, yin to the yang of action. Paintings can stay successfully in this stage for a long time, even years.

“The Great Ones”, acrylic combined media, Suzanne Edminster

The painter or artist may have to go back and forth in the frustration–incubation–strategy realm for a while, then illumination, the “aha moment” strikes, and elevates the venture to a different level, perhaps to completion.  The creative round, like the phases of the moon, will start again with a new idea.

“We Have Purposely Kept It”, acrylic combined media, Suzanne Edminster

These paintings are not done, but after some months of incubating, I am strategizing.  The notebook helps keep me on track.  When you find your way through an art dilemna, the solution often seems absurdly simple.  Still, it took time to get there.  The cycle may play out in one painting, or in series spanning decades.

The Dionysian metaphor is one of unbounded spring growth and ceremonial theatre, among other things.  Perhaps I should drink a glass of wine to Dionysios, and return to the paintings.    A flash of lightning,  a sprouting vine, or a Greek chorus might illumine the way to the next act of painting.

Mythic notes:  The Dionysian mystery cults tried to loosen the bonds between the worlds through sacred intoxication, theatre, dance and ritual.  The Pompeii Murals, with their glowing Pompeii red, were thought to have depicted aspects of this.

Pompeii Murals, probably showing Dionysian cult ritual

Happy Couples and Girls with Horns: Archaic Art Friends from Rome and Naples

This is my image of true love: looking into the light of eternity, together.

The Etruscan “Happy Couple in the Villa Giula museum  in Rome used to be painted and draped with fabric.  They had wine glasses and perfume bottles in hand and were reclining and eating at the same time– wonderful.  She had her earrings and jewelry on originally too.  This is the most famous of the tomb sculptures and is still incredibly moving for its feeling of affection and love. Not to mention the great “dos”, his and hers.

Then, the Romans invaded, and everyone started thinking about money, real estate, commerce.  Look at the new portrait of the married couple, Roman-style! Brood, worry, and scheme… not much trust there. And no more damn reclining in married portraits.

When not buying something or conquering someone,  in their spare time the Romans loved their soft and ahem, harder , images of sex.  This is a sweet one from the Secret Cabinet of Pompeii, a collection of erotic/ironic art  in the Naples Archeological Museum.  We did get in, though the guidebooks report this is often dicey.  It was deserted.  I think there’s a basic misunderstanding about what was erotic and what was common during the height of the Roman Empire.  Phallic-shaped signposts, lucky charms, and house decoration: common and boring.  Wall-painting series of  “menus” showing different sexual activities you could choose in the brothels, especially if you’re illiterate: interesting, erotic, naughty, not boring.  She’s light and he’s dark, showing the power of the guy, or something; this painting convention continued through the Renaissance and later in erotic scenarios. It’s Pan and his goat, but she seems happy.

Girls with Horns!  What can I say?  You can check my Mythic notes at the bottom for more ideas.  Here’s an Egyptian version of girls with horns.  They seem to have water buffalo horns, an image seen still in Naples because of their wonderful water-buffalo mozzarella cheese.  You buy it from the deli, little balls swimming in a salty sea, and carry it home in a tied plastic bag like goldfish from the fair.  Mozarrella alone is a “secondi piatti”– main dish– in Naples.   It’s grilled a bit, served with bread, and that’s it.

And now some Pompeiian paintings of girls with horns.  The “encaustic” they used included wax, but the paint actually used soap (lye-based) as the “caustic” medium binding the pigment  to bond with the walls.  These are not frescoes– the plaster was dry.  These are wet, slippery paint layers.  They then used the hot wax to seal the walls as a varnish on top, which they could buff to a high shine.  The first girl definitely has horns; the second may be more of a crescent moon, perhaps Diana.

Horns or crescent moon?  What say you?

For the last happy couple, Scott and I, the morning after our arrival back, at the IHOP at 6AM.  We are not reclining and eating, like the Etruscan couple, but you see a soft upholstered booth, coffee, empty plates and cups, books, and happiness.  Good enough.

Mythic notes: I saw a lot of images of  Europa on the Zeus-Bull.  She was taken to swim on Zeus-Bull’s back through the Straits of Bosphorus– Bosphorus means ox-crossing– dividing Europe from Asia/Turkey–in other words, the Straits of Istanbul.  Europa and Io merge women with bull or cow, and then put them in water– a river or sea.  They might be a holdover from a more ancient cow -goddess, or metaphors for mass migrations and settlement of cattle people, but I just thought that the girls with horns were cool.  The Romans idealized the Nile as a source of fertility;  Roman matrons would buy vials of Nile water at the local Isis-temple  and douse themselves with it to increase conception.

Book notes:  The Social Animal by David Brooks was a great buy.  It’s trending sociological research, carried by his  made-up, somewhat borg-like characters named  Harold and Erica.  The characters provide a framework for reporting findings from everywhere.  Intriguing.  Many are saying that the creative/artistic mind is the big money earner in our new world. Well, let’s hope.  He lets Erica do art after she retires, and there are a few pages on the latest social research on music, painting, and other arts.   Recommended for a rousing non-fiction read and a juicy idea source.

Studio Notes:   I’ve done large paintings of both Europa and Io as abstractions.