The Now of Artmaking

Over the years I have experienced and witnessed the paralysis that can come with the making of art. It can manifest itself as the staring at a blank page, a blank canvas, a blank whatever. We think about the future of this object, and often we cannot envision what we want this thing to be. We try to have a well thought out, very cohesive idea from the beginning wanting it to spring completely formed from our heads. We sit and stare worrying that we will not be able to think of a suitable use, purpose, or goal. Ideas do flash through our brains, but we quickly dismiss them fearful that they will not live up to the word “Art” with a capital “A”. We get stuck in our heads obsessing over the past and trying to predict the future. We mull over what we have done in the past, what others have done, what art has been, and what art should be. We get caught up in our comparisons and insecurities of the past, and we freeze. We also get caught up in the script of what our art will never be and how it will never live up to the expectations of others and of ourselves. We focus so much on the finished product – what it should be, what it should look like, what it should say, and we freeze.

We need to stop thinking of art as a product – a painting, a journal page, a doll, or a (insert your own thing here). We need to start thinking of art as a process – a line of inquiry – a journey – a series of choices where we really have no idea where we are going or how to get there. We need to focus on what is right in front of us at this very moment. Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us show up and work.” I think he meant that artists have to put in the work. They have to do something. Waiting around for inspiration to strike like lightning, means that there is a lot of sitting, staring, and waiting, and not much making. We must take that first tentative step. We get a glimmer of an idea, or a technique or image for some random reason speaks to us. We embrace that idea, the uncertainty of it. We say to ourselves, “Let’s see where this is going,” and we follow it. Sometimes it leads to something great, often it doesn’t. But we have learned a thing or two, and grown as artists. We then find that next idea, image, or glimmer of technique that will lead our inquiry.

We must stop trying to envision the end result – the product – the project, and simply latch onto an idea and envision the step that we can take NOW. “What do I do with this idea now? Where do I go from here?” These are the only types of questions that we can ask ourselves. We take the step, then ask those questions again, and then take the next step. By focusing on the next step and allowing the accumulation of our steps to take us where the work needs to go, we are making art. By focusing on where we are NOW and not where we want to be, we can continue the journey. We can combat the paralysis, and we can get onto something. Sometimes that something is a pretty good idea. But all ideas come from working through other ideas. It's not magic, and it's not a bolt of lightning.