Friday, 28 October 2011

Learning to create

Dear Diane,
Well, at last I have time to do justice to your last two posts in my reply. This is a sneaky lunchtime blog entry. I have recently started to try to dedicate two lunchtimes a week to creativity. The constrains of location, and my current lack of easily portable projects, prevent any actual creativity to any meaningful degree but it is useful to me to try to carve time out for reading or writing or even just thinking about creative matters. This is Friday and the first time this week I have managed it due to having a work experience student to look after. So today's tea, over which I talk, is a mug at my desk. I cannot show you  the room it is being consumed in because that would actually be a criminal offence but I think I am safe in showing you my mug!

Nor can I show you the cake because I ate it. But it was my homemade lime drizzle cake and it was yummy.

So, lets try to get down all the interesting (to me at least) thoughts swirling around in my head that you have provoked. Going back two posts where we were talking about linear progression down a  goal orientated path versus meandering down every side path as the whim takes you, my view is that - as with most things in life - a happy medium is about right. For me at least. A compromise between Puritanical strict discipline and a productiveless wild abandon is probably best.

You raised two questions namely, 'Why do I do what I do?' and 'How do I define success?'  I realised that the answer to the first question is probably: because I want to. When I have leisure time ( I am sure that happened a few weeks ago for a little while) I can do anything legal and affordable I want to do. Sometimes I read, sometimes I journal. I enjoy doing yoga and I like to bake cakes. And a lot of the time I make quilts. I never sit around anaylsing why I read or do yoga rather than pilates or football. I never debate why I make cakes and bread rather than planting flowers in the garden. I just like doing that stuff.

I once asked the six or seven year old daughter of a friend why did she like horses so much? She shrugged and said, "Because God made me that way."

The trouble is that God also made me to like plannning and organising and to strive for success. And society made me feel like I was never quite good enough. Which leads to a sort of crashing self-sabotage process in which I spend a lot of time pondering whether I am planning in the best way and whether I am defining success correctly and  not actually just doing the stuff that makes me happy because it makes me happy. (See by way of example, the folder on my ipad labelled 'Spare Apps'. It contains a not inconsiderable number of apps for strategic planning, task lists, reminders, time recording, habit tracking etc, which I do not use because I have yet more apps that do the same tasks but better. And I still wonder if actually, my hot pink filofax might not be a more instinctive tool. And now of course with icloud all the apps I do use synch wi-fi-ly with all my other devices leaving me to ponder which of the devices are best suited to the task I wish to do. On the desk I cannot photograph for you are, working from left to right, my mobile phone which is operating as a wifi hotspot for both the ipod which is plugged into the laptop, on which I am actually typing  ( and which has two screens), and also for the ipad on which  I am reading your previous posts. The hot pink filofax is at home because it was deemed too heavy to cart about all the time, but I miss it.)

So for me the process is like you more important than the product.  But is not just the process of  aimless experimentation. That irritates the heck out of me. I like to know why I am doing something and where it is hoped to lead me. Then within that context I am happy to meander and see if there is a sort cut or a longer more pretty route to my destination. And I am not above ditching the destinations becuase actually, the place I found by accident is better. But I need to start with a destination in mind.  Its like my obessive travel planning I suppose. All planned out in advance with planned gaps in the schedule for improvisation! So my question is not so much Why do I do what I do? but rather What am I doing this for? I can see that those look like restatements of the same thing but actually I think the emphasis is different. Less on motivation more on the proposed outcome even though the proposed outcome may be the satisfaction of an  internal motivation rather than an external stimulus. Although an extrnal stimulus is equally acceptable

(Oh look, there is an eavesdropper over there rolling her eyes and muttering about lawyers speaking gobbedly gook. Huh. I know what I mean! I mean,  I need to know that I am doing it  either to see if I can make a quilt that tells the story of a Rwandan  massacre - internal motivation -  or so that I have a new kit that Magie can sell at the African Fabric Shop - external stimulus sort of, but really as I only do the kits because it gives me pleasure to support Magie and to get a repeatable design out of a limited set of fabrics, its more internal.  I don't like to do it with no ascertainable goal all in sight. Oh heck, maybe I am speaking gobbedly gook now.)

My Grandma frequently used to say, " A little bit of what you fancy does you good." Generally speaking I think this is good life advice. (I say 'generally' because she was once heard to say just that whilst stuffing cream meringues into her mouth not long after having been diagnosed with diabetes and I am not sure if the motto applied too well that day!).  So I think for me a bit of planning, a bit of philosophical musings about popular psychology on creativity, a bit of meandering from time to time, a bit of goal setting ... its all about compromise. Maybe its about a safe framework in which to meander.

You also asked, 'What makes a good teacher?' 'What can a teacher do to inspire/ help you?'
Well, I do not think teachers who set simple tasks then praise all students with nothing further are good teachers. I think a teacher that would be good for me is one who enables a student to see a whole other way of viewing a topic or opens up to them a whole new world of possibilties that excites them and then gives enough information to equip that student to go and  explore that world independantly. So project based classes? Too prescriptive for me, although I have been in classes with teachers who were very good at teaching how to replicate their class quilt. But not for me. ( I rebel).

The class needs to all tie together for me too. I need to know where it is meant to take me. I once did a two day workshop on art techniques for textile work. (Thats not what it was called but to protect the not so innocent I will not give the class title).  We spent two days moving from one technique for using art materials to get a 'design starter' to another. But that class wholly failed to explain how the resultant squiggles and splashes of various media related to textile art. They maye have inspired the teacher and it may have been obvious to her but she failed to communicate her thought processes to me at least ( and got politely exasperated with me when I pressed for her to try to do so).

The alternative good teacher to me is one that says she is going to teach you a set technique or a set collection of pieces of information and then does so clearly and precisely without limiting your sense of how you could use that information. The only teacher in the context of textiles who I have come in touch with and who gets five stars from me for that type of class is Claire Benn of Committed to Cloth. Two years ago at festival I just happened to be near her stand when she started to do a screen printing demonstration. Best  class at that show ever. No frills, no patronising, no waffle. Just a stream of clear concise, information, demonstrated visually as she went along adding nothing unneeded, leaving out nothing essential and done in a commanding but approachable tone that left you in no doubt she was an expert and the information was good. Superb. I recommend her books with DVDs for the same reason. Actually I think you bought some at festival didn't you? How did you find them?

A good teacher should enable a student to take the material into something different than that which the teacher is doing but to at least the same standard. So if I may use the example of the comment on your sketchbook course and the reply you gave: a course that would teach me to produce pages like Jane La Fazio. Not interested. A class that used Jane La Fazio pages as examples to give me a blinding understanding of why life without art journalling is a lesser life. For me. Sadly I think that there is a market that perpetuates the 'do- this- and-then-do- that-and -oh -well-done-you-made-a-replica-work' type of teaching which does not require real teaching skills so much as good technique skills and an abilty to pass them on. A good teacher will change the course of a students life even if just by a little bit.  (Hmmm. I wrote that and thought: Oh come on, delete that, thats really pretentious. But on reflection I think its true. So I am leaving it in and sticking my neck out!)

This leads me to bring up another kind of related question for you. On the SAQA yahoo group ( do you read that?) I have been involved in a discussion about art degrees.  I will not describe the whole debate but suffice it to say that it is about whether an art degree is necessary  to be a 'successful artist' ( and you will note I have so far avoided actually answering the question. "what is success?") or whether it is possible to teach the same material to yourself. Despite having had an qualifcation-seeking addiction  in the past I am in the autodidact camp. If only because I like that word. And despite the fact that the debate nearly caused a relapse when I read the undergraduate introduction page for Yale Collage and reaslied that they would let me build a degree that allowed me to do Art History and Zulu classes together and postively encouraged me not to close my mind to adding in a bit of African Amercian studies for good measure after which I could do a quilt related independent study project.   See - thats my kind of meadering - all around the actually quite enclosed field that is african inspired textile art.

Anyway, I have been convinced (and lets face it, I was hardly trying to resist) that it is a good idea to educate myself on the type of topics one might do if one went to art school. Which in its self is huge fun. Not only will that  involve researching art school prospectuses and searching Amazon for related books, it means I can then plan out a selt-taught curriculum for myself. And, better still, I can use my best Ipad apps to plan a time to do that planning. I am in heaven. So here are my questions for you:
Do you think fornal art education is necessary to be a recognised artist. ( I know that is not your definition of success but as it was the one I think most common to those in the debate I shall adopt it for this discussion)
And from your knowledge gained as a homeschooling parent, what is optimal : studying one topic at a time in depth, two of three in parallel or dipping in here there and everywhere into a huge pile of books with no plan?

Oh. is that question not where I came in?


No comments: