Getting high, creatively speaking

Salt, detail, Suzanne Edminster, original acrylic on canvas, 48" x 60"
Detail from “Salt”

I’m reading a book about getting high without drugs or alcohol.  Ironic, because I live in the heartland of  hedonistic, exquisite,  gourmet highs, sipped, smoked, or tasted: Sonoma County. In the midst of an opiate epidemic– understandable within our current mutated, obscene American political climate– I think we have lost our ways of enjoying the old ways of getting high, all on our own, in our own brains and bodies.

The Book of Highs, from my library, with four charming blue eggs, from my Coturnix quail.

The Book of Highs: 255 Ways to Alter Your Consciousness Without Drugs, by Edward Rosenfeld, is an likeable little compendium and pretty fun to read.  Written as a list, and illustrated with pop psychedelic-toned graphics, I immediately turned to the segment “Creativity: Reach into yourself, find and make something new.”  The quotes are all from this book.

“Creativity is something new, something fresh, something that arises out of the absence of preconceived ideas.  Intuition— ideas that spring from the untapped, unpredictable parts of the self– results in creativity.”

I found this striking.  In trying to teach students to paint intuitively this summer, I found that the concept is very hard to explain.  It doesn’t mean that there is no selected form, no restrictions.  It also doesn’t mean that you can’t alter it, edit it, find it wanting, or judge it.  If it exists in the physical universe,  there is always something that restrains and limits the painting:  the canvas and brushes, perhaps a chosen color palette or emotional feeling.

I think you have to paint first to have something emerge.  You have to make a random act on the canvas of some kind, because intuition wants a little springboard.  One mark… one spatter… one line…

Saltworktudio abstract class
My demo painting with initial intuitive marks

 

It’s this act of intuition that gets you high.  It is exhilarating to watch forms appear from nowhere.

“To observe the unexpected, the unknown, and then use what one finds there in a new, unique way: that is creativity.”

One thing to note is that you have to use it, not just observe it.  It isn’t a movie, and it’s not an opium dream.  If Coleridge hadn’t written down the lines of Kubla Khan before the “man from Porlock” had knocked at his door, we would not have an amazingly strange and evocative poem, but just another lost drug hallucination.  We tend to focus on the lost world, the longer poem or epic that vanished when Coleridge was interrupted.  Why not celebrate what he did manage to capture?

 

I was talking to a novelist who recently visited my studio about characters in his novels who seem to live their own lives,  independent of his best writerly plans for them.  He said that a master writer once told him something to the effect of “give the construction of your novel to your characters.  They’ll do it for you.”  I try to give the construction of the painting to the intuitive impulses that manifest:  shapes, lines, colors, sometimes spirits or ideas.

Salt, detail, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic on canvas
Salt, another detail.

This intuitive painting process makes me high.  It’s a problem.  I can’t drive when I’m painting; ask my husband.  It also makes me useless for a while for everyday life and chores.  It takes a lot of energy as well, and there can be a big low after the high of creation.

Salt, far left, Suzanne Edminster, acrylic on canvas, 4 feet by 6 feet,
Salt, the final painting, to the far right.

But I’m now an addict.  I couldn’t live without the creative high.

Creativity is the ability to bring something into existence from nothing. That is, from chaos comes a meaningful, organized whole.”

Creation is our agency to make change, and it gives us back unimaginable pleasure in return, if the risk is taken.

Artistic Failure and the Dangers of Branding

Ikebana, Suzanne Edminster, gold metal leaf and acrylic on canvas, 15″ x 30″. This painting was part of a failed attempt to get into a local gallery.

I was going to write a completely different blog today.  But so many of my friends in the artistic community failed to get juried into our 2018 juried open studio tour, Sonoma County Art Trails,  that I wanted to bring up the topic of failure and the dangers of branding.

All four that I know are fine artists, with established reputations, patrons, and studios.  Also, coincidentally,  all are abstract artists or work outside traditional genre lines, and all are women.

In America, we have a fetish for success.  Our success-lust — there should be a word in German for this and there is, “Erfolgswunsch,”– leads us down many dark and sterile ways.  Our movies worship the thought that if one works hard enough, makes enough sacrifices, you too can SUCCEED!   There are genres of treacly, inspirational songs devoted to this notion.  We Americans are suckers for this one.  It has invaded our churches as prosperity theology, the notion that even God wants us to succeed at everything. God wants us to market ourselves.

In this spin,  the accusation is that if you have failed, you have simply not tried enough.  You need to try again. And again.  Apply to Art Trails again.  Get in those ten thousand hours, loser.  (Though those four women painters I mentioned already have put in their time to their art.)  We need to re-examine our blind adherence to the try, try again philosophy.  Tenacity is good. But what does it serve?

The American dream of success promotes guilt, and it promotes throwing a lot of time and money out to enter the palace of fame and fortune.   It promotes buying advice and spending more money to find out how you can get into the Academy, the gallery, the open studios tour– spend year after year applying and paying the fees to apply.  Take marketing classes. Give money to get online courses and gurus. Brand yourself, baby.

Goose game, Akua soy ink on paper, a failed monoprint.

Part of the current propaganda of Succeeding  is “branding.”  My own connotations with the world are of pain, burning, slavery,  hot iron and screaming calves, and ownership of cattle and humans.  Branding involves creating a consistent image and not deviating from it.  This means failure to conform to your own brand— say, an abstract painter deviates and paints vineyard landscapes– means that you have failed your brand.  It is a failure within a failure, a double failure, failure squared.  Loser!

The problem is that in avoiding losing, in identifying with our own brand, we lose the chance for personal growth.  Milton Glaser, in the video below, voices what artists have always known.  It is a seven-minute video and worth your time.   It’s also worthwhile using the link to his website, above, and taking a look at the series of his own quotes in the header.  It’s no coincidence that in discussing failure, he brings up branding as an issue.

Success, or personal growth?  Milton Glaser managed both, an enviable trick.  But difficult.   I think everyone really needs to discover their own way through, and that takes reflection,  and failure, not wholesale adoption of the images of celebrity and success our society promotes.   The internet provides ways of crafting an individualized success that did not exist when I was a kid back in the the 1960’s.   We only had print materials and TV.

I had a childhood memory of the show Branded,  the 1965-66 show starring Chuck Connors.  The theme song seems, well, branded into my brain.  It is a very scary theme song and image, showing a man stripped of all his honors, his good name, his sword,  and his regimental family, cast out due to apparent desertion of his comrades.  In fact, he is literally “drummed out” of the Cavalry, to the sound of military drums in the background.

The very last line of the song in the video below expresses my feelings about branding.  Remember listening to those TV theme songs and trying to understand every word?  In the last seconds of the final credits of Branded, we hear:

Branded! That’s not a way to die… what do you do when you’re branded, when you live with a lie?

Enjoy the video below.  I chose a black and white version,  the way I originally saw it.   Suzanne

Thanks to Austin Kleon for his incisive thoughts and for providing the Milton Glaser video.

And check out my summer painting classes at LocalsCreate, a new art venue in Geyserville.  Metaphoracards is really fun and coming right up on May 29. I need two more people… if you are the first two to  sign up online and email me about it,  I’ll give you a free copy of Salt Licks and Bad Birds, my book. Just remind me about the book as I’m only offering it here in my blog.  I’m teaching a 3 week series  Wednesdays in June and July on abstract painting and a wild little class called Dream Figure Intuitive Painting  on June 16. Email me at saltworkstudio@gmail.com with any questions.

 

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

New series: “Blackboards” and “Kerubim” open in SOFA Friday

blackboards1
“Black Elk Antlers,” acrylic and oil stick on wood, Suzanne Edminster

It’s always exciting to have a new series choose you.  It makes you famous with yourself.  A great notion has flown down to take you away its talons, like a mythical bird, the Roc.   This bird only sees you.

 Cretaceous Roc by Hodari Nundu
Cretaceous Roc by Hodari Nundu

This year two new series occurred in me, “Blackboards” and “Kerubim.”

I think much art lies outside conscious control.  These do.  Each “Blackboard” develops itself.  I have no idea of what the end result will be when I start. It’s childlike.  I see this, then I see that, then I turn the board and see something else.  I tell stories.  They develop out of the darkness of dream, the blackness of the childhood chalkboard, with markings and erasures like chalk.  And they can disappear like dreams too.

I believe art visits us.  The Kerubim series  (see below) is about visitation of ideas and phenomenon, texting from beyond, and decoding.  Cherubim are very old, going back to Assyria and Babylonia.  They orbit, rotate, have wheels, flames, eyes, thrones, and messages.

Chair Ubim, acrylic on Arches paper, Suzanne Edminster
Chair Ubim, acrylic on Arches paper, Suzanne Edminster

If you can make it, drop by during August.  The opening is in my studio, Friday August 5, 5-8 PM (invite below).   I’m happy to be showing with Chris Beards, an astonishing mixed media sculptor.  I’ll be releasing images on this site through the month of August for those of you who are far away.

It’s so much more interesting to be visited by Rocs or Muses than it is to watch summer blockbusters. With ideas, when the blockbuster opens,  you become its personal theatre.  I wish you happy visitations.

Suzanne

Implied large version

Access the Facebook invitation here.  We are also open for Artwalk on Saturday and Sunday.