From Musings

Collage, then and now…

Thought I would share something different for this blog and do something visual.

One of the tasks, fairly towards the end of “The Artist’s Way”, and one of the more time-consuming ones, is to take about 10 magazines or papers and flick through, tearing out any images that seem to resonate or appeal to you. Once having done so, create a collage. The original task is meant to help you envisage and help you target your aspirations. It’s meant to appeal to you as a developing artist at that moment in time. I never found the collage the first time that aspirational, I couldn’t quite see it as a way to create an image of me in the future and the goals I was going to achieve. It did, however, offer me a chance to just be creative for the hell of it and make something that had no real purpose other than to just satisfy me.

Three months on you’re encouraged to update this and make a new one. Can’t say it’s been three months exactly, I knew it was “due” though and so threw this together over the weekend. If anyone reading this happens to be a therapist or psychologist and wishes to get in touch with some sort of an analysis, please do. I’d be fascinated to know what this came across as. In the meantime, I’ve done my own snapshot evaluation of the differences between the two…

Previous collage, created during “The Artist’s Way”

– The previous image seems a lot more chaotic, the current focuses on form, layout and landscape a lot more.

-The current image involves a lot of property (clearly on my mind as I’m thinking about ways to buy a house).

– The current image feels calmer and much more organised (perhaps insight into my psyche at the moment, I’ve been reading into things like minimalism and meditation)

– The quotes in the current image feel very aspirational and empowering. The previous just seem frivolous and disconnected.

– The current feels like a sense of perspective. The previous seems like an up close examination under a microscope.

I’m likely to do another in 3 months, let’s see how things change… If anyone fancies undertaking the exercise, it can be really quite satisfying to just sit and be creatively indulgent without having to spend a lot of money. It’s a great way of channelling your creativity in a new form or simply reconnecting with creativity in the first place.

 

Current collage, 3 months on

 

 

My review for Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s way can be found here…

As a followup, my thoughts on the 174 days of Morning pages created as part of m journey on “The Artist’s Way” can be found here.

If anyone feels like checking themselves into creative recovery and doing the “The Artist’s Way” themselves, find a link to the book here – I found it really useful to have my own hard copy. I’m a big fan of marginalia and annotation and this is a book that needs that kind of digestion to make it your own.

 

CHECKING INTO CREATIVE RECOVERY – A REVIEW OF “THE ARTIST’S WAY” BY JULIA CAMERON

Again, another book always on the recommended reading lists for any creative practitioner or artist, and one of the most talked about. It only seemed right in my own journey of creative evolution that I put myself through the 12 week process to examine my own creativity.

For anyone who hasn’t come across this read, Cameron was a scriptwriter in Hollywood, boasting Spielberg and Scorsese as some of her friends and colleagues. “The Artist’s Way” developed in response to Cameron teaching a class on scriptwriting and her students claiming to have no creativity, and also her own experiences as a artist. It has now taken on its own following, spawning many follow on works and groups around the world….

The book compromises of 12 chapters of working weeks, each focusing on a different aspect of your creativity or existence as an artist. Each contains essays written by Cameron exploring deeper the topics being spot lit that week and then some following homework.

Included also are a few rather lengthy chapters of introduction which set up the whole context for what you are letting yourself into and introducing two key concepts that come into use throughout the book: Morning Pages and Artist Dates. Morning Pages are three A4 pages of conscious thought, written longhand, preferably done in the morning. An Artist Date sets aside few hours each week in which you indulge your inner artist in something you want to do. Some of mine in the last few weeks have included baking, walking, painting whilst listening to favourite album, walking around a food market, visiting a gallery, the cinema the other side of London to see a very obscure choice of film.

In speaking to colleagues informing them I was working my way through “The Artist’s Way” it was interesting to see that many had rebuked the idea, trying it in the past and stopping after a few weeks in finding it not very helpful. Admittedly this undertaking isn’t for the faint hearted, some weeks with Morning Pages, Artist Dates and the homework set, it can be quite time consuming. Cameron also asks you to delve into the dark corners of your mind and confront a few home truths which can be quite uncomfortable. I stuck with it though partly because so many people had claimed to have such success with the book; I was determined to do all 12 weeks as a promise to my own development (even if I took nothing away from it I would be able to say I’d done it and able to talk about it from an educated perspective

To clarify, Cameron hopes that in undertaking her course you rediscover your creativity, or further indulge in your creative tendencies. I expected it to be very different to what it actually is. Whilst expected tasks like collages and drawing are included, there’s also quite a lot of analysing, making lists, comparing and documenting. I wonder if this is why some of my colleagues struggled with it, it doesn’t immeadiately scream “this will make you more creative!”. What it does do, and I only realised this as I was coming to the end of the 12 weeks, is present you with a huge amount of evidence about yourself and gives you permission to explore realms of possibilities you may rule out in the day to day running of your life. It’s an excellent way to gain a distanced perspective of you as a whole person, from an honest and well rounded point of view.

12 weeks is a long time and I can’t say I enjoyed what was asked of me every week. I had to bear in mind that it’s a process that has been devised and refined for a specific reasoning to cause effect. Overall, take it with a pinch of salt and read into it what you will. Cameron refers to God in the book quite often, but you don’t need to believe in such a concept or be religious, I certainly don’t. Cameron merely asks you to believe in energy greater than you and that I can get on board with – this book is about opening up to possibilities, the world and energies around you and letting yourself channel them.

Can I say I am more creative for having done it? I don’t really know, I wonder whether it’s a bit like going to the gym; you rarely notice the small changes as you are living them day to day. I can say though this book has provided me with some excellent tools which I will be using again and again, and also a more open minded approach to thinking and problem solving. There are also some excellent essays penned by Cameron that I will be re-reading as resources and means of support on aspects of living a creative life, or life as an artist. (It’s as good as turning up to Artists’ Anonymous once a week)

I’d recommend “The Artist’s Way” to anyone, whether they were wanting to pursue a creative lifestyle or not, it’s a really delightful journey to reconnect with yourself and your key values. You emerge from the 12 weeks a better, more coloured-in version of yourself. For those of you wondering, and maybe have read the radical changes that some people have made in their lives after doing this book, divorcing partners, selling their belongings etc, there’s very little in this book that asks you to completely change your world. Moreover, it merely asks you to reconnect with yourself and harness the power of possibilities.

“THE GIFT” – LEWIS HYDE

 

This book has been recommended to me by several colleagues, and indeed the internet via those “if you are an artist, you should read this” style lists. I can’t say that the blurb sells this book well, in initially reading it I was skeptical. However, having been so heavily recommended and labelled a “must read”, I decided to bite the bullet and see what the fuss was about.

First things first, it’s a mammoth of a tome. I read it on my kindle (purposefully for that reason, space in bag saving!) and it’s one of those books that seems to be a constant screen swiper. 50 pages later, you’ve achieved another percent and are told there’s another hour and 40 minutes left of the chapter. For anyone looking to tackle this, I’d recommend the kindle version.

This is a book of two halves, and it makes itself very clear in the contents and introduction. The first seven chapters discuss the concepts of gifts, gift exchanges and definitions between commodities, products and what makes a gift. The last 2 chapters are explorations and discussions upon the lives of poets Walt Wiltman and Ezra Pound.

Herein lies the ultimate problem in this book. Though wordy, the first 7 chapters offer interesting insight and discussion into what a gift actually is. There is great exploration into concepts such as commodities: when a gift changes into something else, and how gifts are used in different socio-dynamics. Whilst this doesn’t quite answer the book’s main aim, to explore “the gift” of creativity, it offers interesting reading and a good study into anthropology and human nature.

The last two chapters, the studies on the poets, seem to veer wildly off course and cloud the book’s focus. Pages upon pages of text that doesn’t seem relevant and more like a passion project for Hyde, the author, whose voice comes through clear in these sections. It made me wonder at times, as I trudged through this verbal treacle, as to why the editor had allowed these chapters to be left in at the length they are.

When we finally reach the conclusion, things seem to wrap up nicely, with a few useful gems that I eagerly highlighted. These are not enough to really spark other inspiring thoughts for research or contemplation; their appearances are brief, thin and fleeting. Instead there is too much excessive research and emphasis on areas that don’t really answer the book’s main objective.

This write up casts “The Gift” in a bad light, it’s not intentionally meant to. Perhaps it’s purpose was slightly lost on me. Despite providing information and discussion on quite a niche topic, there isn’t enough work in here discussing the effects of creativity as a gift, or the plights of artists as gift givers to feel it comprehensively fulfils its desired outcome.

Give it a read, but one I would move to the bottom of the majority of reading lists.

The “F” Word – Sharing and Celebrating Failure

Recently I was talking to a scientific researcher over tea (yes, dear reader, what a way to start a blog!?) Being naturally curious, I asked into the ins and outs of his work and him likewise; that chat has inspired this blog.

A common theme that was apparent in both our professions, in different guises, was experimentation. A major difference though: his job was to embark upon, document and share, all the possible outcomes from a question; in my work only the good outcomes ever see the light of day when an audience see the show. I hide my failures, he celebrates and shares his. Each one, to him, is a discovery.

Speaking to other artists and creative practitioners here, we will all come across failure. It is inevitable in our line of work. Whether that be a declined proposal, failed audition, or a piece of work that just doesn’t seem to want to happen, failure is a constant recurring event we come across. As artists though, we keep failure relatively private. We grieve, we acknowledge where we went wrong behind closed doors to avoid judgement or criticism and we may or may not beat ourselves up over it (despite it may not being our fault).

My scientific friend though had a totally opposing outlook on failure. To him, each failed experiment or attempt was a discovery in working toward the end goal – and each one had to be catalogued, documented and shared amongst colleagues! Each one, he said, presented a learning experience in gaining one step closer to pinning down the end discovery. It actually made it easier as he and his team knew where they were going wrong. Now, admittedly, it could be argued that the variables in a scientific experiment and the variables that go into creating a piece of art might be hard to compare, however it’s never going to hurt to be able to analyse what went wrong where and think what could be done better next time. Each attempt is indeed a step closer to finding out the end goal, even if that attempt doesn’t bring forth the answer we hoped for. It is likely, after we have gotten over the frustration, to learn something from it and it might spark a totally new stream of thinking and discovery.

Elizabeth Gilbert in her book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” (which is an excellent read and a book I must review. Liz’s podcasts, “Magic Lessons”, are an excellent extension of the conversation or a great way to dip your toes into her thinking. Link here…. https://www.elizabethgilbert.com/magic-lessons/) discusses and explores failure as the process of the world asking if you want to try again. Many, in answer to this question, don’t. The pain experienced in not accomplishing their goal being too crushing to even consider attempting again. Bearing in mind the mentality from my scientific counterpart, isn’t it worth trying again, just to get that one step closer? Every step and newly gained knowledge (even if that knowledge is that something doesn’t work) is in itself is an achievement. It may not be right or what we asked for, but we know what to try next time. The universe effectively testing our determination and resolve as artists to work toward achieving the desired result.

I wrote in one of my earlier blogs about why it is important to blog, and why as artists we should share. If anything, in considering this idea of failure and actually celebrating it, “I tried this, it didn’t work as I hoped, but I did learn this”, it makes me want to share even more. Every discovery may be useful to someone, and actually any insight into my process, however poor the outcome, is still enlightening. This is one of the reasons why I set out to do in blogging and engaging in conversation about my work.

Ultimately, we should not evaluate work with such a black or white perspective. Labelling something as a failure almost seems to cast it aside, calls it false, wrong or incorrect. In engaging with creativity surely we just explore an idea and delight in whatever the outcome? We have created something new. Ultimately we are creative scientists, however we replace labs with our studios, desks and rehearsal rooms and their test tubes with bodies, fantastic collaborators, words or materials.

We are there to engage in and explore whatever brilliant insights and experiments come our way. If they end in a failure, let us learn from them, moving on to the next as part of our journey of discovery in engaging with creativity.

Framing Devices – who, what, why, how etc. to tell this story

I’ve recently seen a lot of theatre which utilises the framing device. I thought this warranted a blog on the subject, for having seen it used, on mass, I was suddenly drawn to how effective – and also troublesome – such a tool can be.

Firstly, for anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about when I refer to the term “framing device”…

A brilliant visiting director when I was training explained framing devices to me as such, quite literally and simply:

Imagine the story you want to tell is a great piece of art – a painting, photo etc. In order for us to see this piece of art, we stick it in a frame and hang it on the wall of the gallery. In this instance of performance, the frame is another story, situation or structure that allows the original story to be told.

For some reason, I find the framing device is deployed heavily in children’s theatre, or theatre for younger audiences. In particular, when the original tale is a well known one – for instance a popular children’s novel.

Framing devices can be great to highlight themes or messages in the original story brilliantly, giving you another situation or set of characters to mirror these things in or to allow the original tale to be in some way didactic. They also, on reflection, present a number of troubles.

Firstly, from an overall perspective, it always begs to question why is this framing device telling this story. It surely has to present some kind of purpose – it simply can’t be a nice route to tell the original story. Why bother otherwise? Why not just do the original tale as is? No need to frame it. I always wonder whether companies who adapt novels and books (from page to stage as it were) utilise the framing device to put some distance between the audience’s perception and the production they see. The danger in doing such an adaptation, particularly one of a well known children’s story, is that the audience arrive at the theatre with a clear idea of what they are expecting. A framing device can allow for different artistic interpretation.

From my perspective as a specialist director/designer, the framing device always throws up a few questions in terms of staging and look for a show. Thinking as a designer (and obviously one whose concern is for puppets and performing objects), when our storytellers begin telling their story, how are they telling it? Are they using items from their surroundings to do so? If this is the case, will this carry on throughout? Our audience continually suspending their belief further and always being aware that they are being told a story via illustrative or recreated means, as opposed to, in cinematic terms, being sucked into the storybook and everything is experienced as real. While both equally valid, they come with their own set of considerations.

If we stay rooted in the world of the storyteller, it’s unlikely they will have a beautifully crafted puppet fully representing whatever they need to. In this instance the puppet belongs in the world of the object and of the surroundings of the storyteller, engineered and encouraged by our storyteller to perform. It is a representational substitute for the real thing; the object/thing will be playing the role of ______.  That is not to say that at some point the object/puppet cannot metamorphosise into a more realised being, however this an element of magic or imagination that we must earn in our storytelling. It’s peculiar to watch a show and find characters of one world suddenly producing perfectly crafted stage worthy items of purpose to tell the story of another. It begs the question whether the characters of the framing device who claim to be of one profession moonlight as a professional theatre company.

If we go to the other end of the spectrum, and the story comes to life as it were, at what point is there the magic or the culmination of such imaginative power to warrant our fully representational puppet? In this instance the puppet here is the character, it is not an object being asked to play that role. That puppet IS the thing. There aren’t as many theatrical layers of perspective in place. This too changes the performance style of how the role of the puppeteer is utilised, more often than not, in this instance, the puppeteer has no character or role. They become a presence, a shadow linked to the puppet or the most commonly seen in this context, invisible. There isn’t necessarily an awareness of puppetry being used as a technique by the storytellers.

Ultimately, framing devices if used correctly are wonderfully effective. In deploying them you add in another possible level of commentary and some interesting limitations and opportunities in how the original story can be told. However, they shouldn’t be used as a scape goat or as an easy way out/in. Using them adds in another set of questions that need answering. They, like puppetry, have a deconstructed quality to them. You can see the layers in place – which, when tackled correctly and appropriately, are easily ignored, accepted or forgotten. Used as an excuse or shoe horned into the piece, (again, like some puppetry I’ve seen) and they stick out like a sore thumb and leave the audience more doubting than delighted.

HABITS… ALL PART OF THE PROCESS?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about habits. By habits, I mean ingrained ways of thinking or processes that seem to happen on autopilot. Charles Duhigg in his book “The Power of Habit”  – which I have to say is an excellent read if you are interested in psychology and self improvement – breaks down the habit into a three step process.

A trigger is fired in reaction to something else. This trigger usually happens because of a want or desire (not necessarily a positive one) and results in an action. This culminates in a result. More often than not, both trigger and result are psychological and the action is physical. It isn’t necessarily as clear cut as 1, 2, 3, hey presto, something happens. The action may also occur at the same time as both trigger and result, i.e. sucking your thumb which nurtures and comforts and feeds itself on a sort of cycle.

In this instance the word “habit” seems to only relate to smaller action, and I guess that can be said of all habits really. What is interesting is the greater effect of them.

Twyla Tharp in her book “The Creative Habit” – which I have to re-work through at some point – talks about the elements of her creative process and her approach to work, her “habits” if you will, as “rituals”. I think has a lovely sense of ceremony to it and puts a great deal of importance into the creation of work. Again, these seem to be smaller actions though which relate to a larger effect within a process. For instance, Ms Tharp, a former dancer turned choreographer, likes to begin her day with an intensive work out at the gym, to condition and reconnect with her body. Is the habit that she likes to go to the gym? No, she argues. Her habit and ritual is the fact that she steps outside her New York apartment and orders a taxi to take her there. Small action, large result.

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This process for Ms Tharp sets her up for the day before she attends rehearsals, however it is part of her autopilot system that allows her to create work. In this sense, I guess this is why I have also been thinking about habits, habits that go into the creative process or into the creation of work. Reason being, I don’t feel like I have any!

For design work, I have approached every project differently. In performance, I have never had a standard warm up that I have done at the start of every working day. I have always tailored what I am doing to what I think is the most suitable thing to the project – to what the work needs. On the plus side, at least it means I am adaptable. Negatively, the inner artist inside me wails, “What is my process?!”.

Perhaps this in itself is a habit. I have the habit of preparing – however arguably I would have thought every creative practitioner must engage in some kind of preparation before undertaking a task. If they don’t, I would hope it would be a part of the process and a well judged opinion not to do so!

Within preparation though, I can’t argue I have any habits. I seem to do with what I and the work need. I know of designers and visual artists who seem to go through what I would describe as a Pinterest immersion period, where hundreds of images flood boards and are shared with various collaborators. Directors who, no matter what the piece, will find and read an extensive list of reading material. Visual artists who immediately go wild with a camera. Movement specialists who have done the same warm up for 10 years. These are the rituals these practitioners have in their preparatory phase. Over my time making work, I have done all of these things, but none of them religiously. That if to remove this from my process, I would be lost.

As I advance through this stage of creative development, I am paying close attention to what I do and what I don’t do. Maybe this is why my work to date has been so varied, my habit is to adapt and find new appropriate habits to make the work flourish.

Let’s see, shall we?

Some further reading, in case anyone fancies it.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creative-Habit-Learn-Use-Life/dp/0743235274/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473695879&sr=8-1&keywords=creative+habit+twyla

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Power-Habit-Why-What-Change/dp/1847946240/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473695903&sr=8-1&keywords=the+power+of+habit

WHY BLOG?

Well, it’s a question I have asked myself a number of times too. Blogs, for me, have always been something other people did and more often than not, something I was asked to contribute to by the production’s marketing team. I’ve never quite understood their purpose.

I’m currently using this year to really engage with my professional and creative development. By that I mean I’m looking at what I do, how I do it and why. I’m being asked to take on new responsibilities and roles, having been out of training for 5 years, my approach to work has changed. I value different things and different aspects of puppetry appeal to me. I feel I owe it to my own progression as an artist to be honest with myself and look at how I can support and steer my development moving forward.

Part of this has been an extensive amount of reading – I’ll be putting some book reviews up later – but this leads me on to answering “why blog?”
I recently read “Art and Fear: Observations on the Rewards (and Perils) of Art Making” by Ted Orland and David Bayles, and “Show Your Work!” by Austin Kleon; coming across both on various reading lists for creative practitioners. Interestingly, both of them  (despite the time difference in publication) discuss the idea of sharing the development of your work and using it as a recording and documenting process.
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“Art & Fear” makes an excellent point saying that art – in whatever form – is only ever seen by the audience as a final product. A painting hangs in a gallery, finished, a dance piece is seen rehearsed and under performance conditions. As such, an audience never really understands the development that the artist has gone through to get there. It may well be the artist didn’t intend to finish the journey with this result however, in the context of an audience engaging with it for the first time, with no previous knowledge, they will base their thoughts and opinions on what they see in front of them.
I remember, years ago, seeing an object/visual/physical theatre piece that involved a performer dipping themselves in ink and thrashing around on stage to create these very violent distressing black and white images on huge canvases, whilst his fellow performer played a xylophone style instrument made out of stones. I was later told after reading a blurb about the piece that it was an examination of the brief moment before a crow lands (specific, non?) An interesting and rich source of inspiration, however I couldn’t work out how they got to having a barrel of ink and a stone xylophone and this very manic performance. Not that I wanted to see the essence or an exact reenactment of a crow landing procedure onstage, that’s not what theatre is about (if I wanted to watch that, I would go bird watching), but I wanted to know how they got to what I saw in front of me. Even if it were to appreciate each moment of the process as individual art pieces themselves.
“Show Your Work!” encouimage1rages artists to share what they are doing, at all stages of the process. There are lots of different reasons for doing so – this book being published much more recently and aware of social media and online sharing platforms – however, in sharing, it encourages artists and audiences to engage in discussion and peak interest in work, educating and ultimately benefiting everyone.
Furthermore “Art & Fear”, being authored by practising artists, talks about documenting your work, and several artists sketch and notebooks which the authors found useful in their own development. Really I should be doing this on a daily basis and engaging with my creative thoughts. I did whilst training. I was expected to keep a journal which was to be a place to express what I was feeling in what I was learning and to document what I was coming across. Since graduating I haven’t really done so. I obviously keep books on projects I’m working on, however these are more pads to make me remember things from  meetings!
So, back to blogging and why I’m attempting to do it. Bearing all of the above and what I’m trying to do,  it’s a chance for me to document and record my experiences and thoughts as I am working, but ultimately share with you. I find a lot of people spend most of their time engrossed in what they are doing without understanding the “why”. As I’m going through a programme of self and creative development, but in understanding the reason why I am doing something, I’m hoping I can make what and how I do to achieve it much more effective and ultimately help my creative development.
I hope you enjoy coming along for the ride and exploring the inner ramblings of my brain.
Finally, some resources for you, in case you are interested…
 Links here for the books listed on this blog – but I’m sure they are also available in many good bookshops: