Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Creating to feed the soul

"The artist who experiments with an improvisatory process may be unclear about how the final painting may look, but extremely clear of what he or she wants to express. In this sense the painting itself is part of a process; the final result is the power of the expression."

Robert Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance

I read this passage this morning with a certain sense of relief: Oh, good, he gets it, I don't have to know what the final image will look like. All I need to know is what I'm hoping to express.

Except why do I need his approval for that in the first place? And did I in fact know what I wanted to express with this image?

(I find it amusing that I almost immediately began putting myself in an adversarial position with this author. Why is that, I wonder? Is it because I have to read him for a course? Am I doing that thing where I put people in positions of authority and then feel rebellious? Or is it just the tone of his writing? It seems to be a bit of both, but I've definitely felt my inner judge being activated; perhaps I should sit with that a bit...)

The second question is trickier -- particularly with this image. I shot several pictures of California poppies yesterday while out on a walk with my husband, and this one was definitely my favorite: I like its graceful lines, its simplicity, and the feeling of light. So I sat with it a while in Photoshop, playing with the lines and shapes, and playing with the lights and darks. And, quite frankly, it wasn't at all clear to me that any of the things I did improved upon this image. So here it is, exactly as I shot it.

Does that mean I knew what the end product would be? Clearly not. But what I did know was the effect I wanted to create -- or did I? I think what happened was I saw this -- once I had shot it -- and it spoke deeply to me about the relationship between creator and creation: To me this flower is basking in light, worshiping the light, welcoming and open to the light. It feels the way my heart feels at those most precious moments in meditation: open, whole, accepting... which is certainly something I hope to share in my art.

But was I consciously going for that effect? No, I'm not sure I had any idea before I took the photo, or even before I started playing with it, or before I started writing this post, that that was where I was going. It was in the process of spending time with the image, opening to the image, and attempting to describe what I see that I learned what it says to me and why that's important enough to share.

Perhaps THAT is the end point of my creative process: to arrive at something that makes my heart swell with joy, to spend time in co-creation and watch to see what it has to teach me. Perhaps it's not about knowing what I will create, but about staying in touch with my inner guide: knowing myself and what I hunger for, and then working with the creative process until I arrive at something that feeds my soul.

At the end of today's chapter, Fritz seems to address this process beautifully:

"Roger Sessions, describing how Beethoven's musical vision affected his compositional process, wrote, "When this perfect realization was attained, there could have been no hesitation -- rather a flash of recognition that this was exactly what he wanted."...Very often," Sessions explains, "he is unaware of his exact processes of thought till he is through with them; extremely often the completed work is incomprehensible to him immediately after it is finished."

It is as if the composer had been led to the result by the inner eye of vision. Many creators express this sense of surprise and awe at their own creations.

The inner eye of vision can see what isn't there yet, can reach beyond present circumstances, and can see what, up to that point, has never been there. It is truly an incredible human faculty that is able to see beyond the present and the past and, from the unknown, to conceive something not hitherto in existence.

The great twentieth-century composer Karlheinz Stockhausen wrote, "We need to close our eyes for a while and listen. There is always something unheard of in the air."

Hmm. I like the sound of that!


Unknown said...

I hope you and your loved ones had a great weekend. Sending love to you xoxo

Maureen said...

I think you are drawn to beauty (Beauty) and its expression in God's creation; you have "the eye" for it, and that eye finds it, whether or not you are conscious of it. That's the starting point and look what it brings us to: this marvelous image! The experimentation or improvision seem, to me, to be secondary at best. I don't think we even need to understand that primary gift, we just have to let it be to do its "work"--the seeing, the listening, the hearing.