Thursday, March 29, 2007

Loose vs. Tight in Art Making and Creativity

One of my students has been hassling me that the work we're doing is 'too tight'. She's trying to loosen up. Why? "Because I think it's more creative" she says.

She prefers, on the one hand, to work from photographs, whether her own or not, over trying to imitate a contempory watercolor, and, on the other hand, uses as an example of past lessons she's liked interpretations of old American Masters (Homer, Inness) or Masters such as Cezanne and Degas. She has also been very proud of her results from my step-by-step watercolor lessons from various instruction books, and has had some framed. She has, on her own initiative, chosen to work from photographs such as Elliot Porter's.

I have asked and asked just what does she mean, because I see too many contradictions between the points she asserts and the examples she uses and her past actions and her own painting results she's liked, to believe her statement has one single clear meaning. Her answer is only "loose, not tight". And, "I don't over analyze. You over analyze too much. You try to get into the nitty-gritty of everything." she said to me in class. Too much? How does one say that? (This makes me so defensive, its so hard to get past.) Perhaps I over analyze too much for someone's preferences. One doesn't want to be that way, ok. That works for one person, not the other, and each to his own. But I'm trying to understand just what is meant here. I want to get inside, to get at the heart of what you mean. Because it doesn't feel like what you're saying is what you mean. That is what I'm trying to see - if the outside is matching the inside. If it doesn't feel right, if it feels incongruent, I will keep looking until I see if it is what it says it is. Is this over analysing? By whose standards? Who is to say something is 'over' analysing? Who decides if something an individual wants to do is too much? Now perhaps it is too much (in this case) for the students in the class, or for her. If it is too much for her, than I have to decide whether or how I adapt to that input. Is it really a problem for the other students? Is it really a problem for her? Does it make a negative experience for her or them? Or, does it contribute to our growth as individuals or as a group? These are the questions I want to consider.

I want to know why it is more creative to be 'loose'. I have seen so much technically proficient 'loose' painting that I find insensitive, commercial if you will, a kind of mechanical almost robotic feel that masquerades as unique free work. Such work looks like it's churned out, comes off a production line. I don't see the soul in it. I see that the artist knows how to do it, to do it well, like a cake decorator can ice a cake in his sleep. But there is no real depth of feeling or meaning in it. Oh, but the work is loose and splashy. To me this is not more creative. I think you can be just as creative, alive, and loose inside as small a speck as you can see and move inside of as you can within the biggest space you can manipulate in. I think it has more to do with letting go, giving your all and being in the now/moment, being one with the space/environment of the work, your tool, your mind, your body (which is also your tool). Being 'loose' does not have to do with small or large movements. It has everything to do with commitment, directness, confidence, abandon ie. going for broke or stepping off a cliff and hoping you'll be caught in time, trust and risk taking.

And I have seen 'tight' work that is loaded with feeling and meaning and creativity. Is architecture loose? Is it creative? That depends on the building. It doesn't even really matter whether an architectural idea was first created loosely on scrap paper or tightly in a computer program or where have you. It just matters that the building works, that people find it moving, that it stands the test of time. A movie - how can a movie be loose? What determines whether a movie is creative? Being creative takes so much more than looseness. 'Looseness' is of the least importance.

And, until the camera came along, no art was 'loose'. Sketches were loose, but they were not considered in those terms. They were considered studies and plans for the actual work. They were not even considered unfinished because that stage of the work was never even an actual part of the final piece. Are we saying we then also saying that all the art created before the camera was not creative? Certainly the sketches and drawings of the old masters show more of their roughness than their smoothness, perhaps allowing us to see more of the artist's thought process.

Looseness is only one form of expression and as such is not more nor less creative than any other form. Jazz is loose - its created on the spot, in the now, its spontaneous. But there are good and bad jazz players. What determines the creativity and value of the playing is not the looseness but the player(s)'s ability to soar, to bear the soul. Creativity is not limited or even tied to looseness. The Mozart pieces we hear now are not Mozart playing. But his creativity lives on in the pieces and even manages to show through when played by poor players. Of course we'd rather hear it played by an artist who lets the spirit shine through. And that is so vital in creating art - letting the spirit shine through.

Ironically, having such a limited definition or judgement for creativity and looseness is the very thing that keeps one from expressing that creativity and looseness.

Can one teach someone to be loose, to be creative? I don't think so. Neither is it something one has or does not have. I think it is something one just decides to be or to allow (or to stifle). People squash their creativity all the time just with their beliefs. But their creativity is always inside them. It doesn't go away. Perhaps it comes exploding out some unwanted way because it was held back too long. It is a force of nature. It just is. It belongs to all of us, to all of Life, and to all beings.

Now, what I think my student is really wanting or saying, is that she prefers a certain kind of look and that is en plein-air, or direct spontaneous painting, and she prefers to deal with only certain subject matter. And yet even here this doesn't make sense to me, I don't get it. ..........And what is this she's said several times in a disgruntled or denigrating tone, "I don't want to paint Animals" as though animals were a substandard subject matter in either her rule book or the art world's rule book.

If you decide ahead of time that only one way is permissable or creative, than we choke off the avenues to get there. You have to have a lot of ways to get there. The only reason to limit the way to get where you want to go is to expand and find more options within a limitation, to see how much can be created out of it - not because it is the only way to get there. You stifle creativity (and in turn, looseness) if you judge that 'a' is not good, or 'b' is not creative or 'c' is not allowed, etc. etc. you restrict creativity far more surely that way than restricting the size of physical movements restricts creativity. Because you are denying the nature of what Life and Reality is. Creativity exists in the mind, is a state of mind and so is freedom. Freedom just is, it has to be. Freedom exists, must exist in and under any circumstance or it is not freedom. What is freedom if it is something handed to you? Freedom is the birthright of existence and can only just be taken, assumed as the nature of existence. If we are all not free by nature, we are just puppets or machines. I don't believe life can work that way (as a machine) or that there is any purpose to life working that way. There would be no purpose to living if that were the case. Why we even consider it an option that we should live as a puppet or machine is beyond me. Or why we would want to live if we believed we were puppets or machines - again, incomprehensible to me.

Note: I will be experimenting with posting thoughts here that may or may not be fully worked out. These will be works in progress or may just stay as they are. This writing surely has lots of contradictions in it and maybe doesn't make sense. Perhaps no one will understand any of it.