"... a little self knowledge goes a long way. If you understand the strands of your creative DNA, you begin to see how they mutate into common threads in your work. You begin to see the "story" that you're trying to tell; why you do the things you do (both positive and self-destructive); where you are strong and where you are weak (which prevents a lot of false starts), and how you see the world and function in it." (Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit)
I found this concept intriguing: how would I describe or define my creative impulses? Why am I drawn to certain forms, certain styles and mediums and what is my unique perspective? To understand what my world - or life - view is would be to understand the story I am trying to tell through my work. And according to Tharp, to have a handle on my perspective will help me to hone in on my strengths, my gifts and my story.
When I was in high school, my art teacher encouraged me to apply for a scholars award in the arts. I'm not even sure what I was applying for and at the time was baffled by my teacher's sudden interest in me as student. While I loved art, I was not particularly gifted. Or more fairly put, I was not given the training nor the tools to develop whatever artistic talent I might have possessed. But I filled out the application and struggled over the section that required me to compose my Artist's Statement. (Again, I do not recall my teacher providing me with any practical guidance; it is no wonder I felt helplessly inept and under qualified.)
At sixteen, I wonder how much insight I could have possibly possessed? Certainly not enough to formulate a well developed artistic vision or statement of purpose. I had recently seen an exhibit of Georgia O'Keeffe's work and I recall I wrote something inspired by her quote: "When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not." I cannot imagine I had enough pieces to submit; I know I did a pencil drawing close up view of our jade plant, putting forth my best effort to evoke O'Keeffe's close-up and intimate views of plants and flowers.
Now, 30 years later, I realize my creative impulse is heavy inspired by that early experience of Georgia O'Keeffe's art. What I love about her art is a physical expression of nature through paint. It is like she felt the mountains, the trees, the flowers through her body first and then translated that experience onto the canvas. When I look at her work, I feel a physical connection to the forms; I can sense bones and muscle underneath her mountains and through her work I understand on a visceral level my connection to nature.
I've been thinking about the other artists that have shaped my creative DNA. (Or maybe it is I am drawn to them because we share a similar outlook?) Long before I studied art history, I loved the art of Vincent Van Gogh. I love the vulnerability and intense humanness - the longing, the passion, the hopefulness - of Van Gogh's artistic and written expression.
"How can I be useful, of what service can I be? There is something inside me, what can it be?"
"For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream." -Vincent Van Gogh
Again, I am drawn to the physicality of Van Gogh's art. The swirl of brushstrokes, the texture of paint, vivid colors all conveying his physical and emotional experience of the scene he has depicted. In general I relate to the art of the Post-Impressionist and the Fauves who use color, form, line and symbols for emotionally expressive rather than descriptive purposes. Matisse is another artist whose rich use of color and decorative patterning and compositions has inspired me greatly. He once said he wanted his art to have the effect of a good armchair after a long, hard day. What I love in his art and what I believe I am drawn to do in my work is to recreate the sense of joyfulness, visual delight and wonderment over the magic of the world around us.
Frida Kahlo's art inspires me to delve deeply into the realm of personal imagery; to use art as a means of self exploration and perhaps exorcism of fears, doubts, pain and sorrow. I love how her work balances both the richness and the pain of human experience. I love her inventiveness and her unflinching examination of herself as a subject.
As an undergraduate I wrote my senior art history thesis on Robert Rauschenberg. I had never considered his impact upon my aesthetic until now. Rauschenberg and other artists of the sixties challenged us to reconsider what forms, materials and subject matter constitutes "art" and they opened up the possibility that art can be made from the scraps and subject matter of our prosaic world. Low on funds for materials, Rauschenberg simply used his bedspread quilt as a canvas for a painting. He gathered imagery from mass media and transformed it into a new visual language. In a word, he delighted in stuff. He turned trash into beauty. Or rather, he found beauty where others might only see junk. He once said: "Painting relates to both life and art ... I try to act in that gap between the two."
Rounding out this list (because I could go on and on ...I haven't even mentioned Giotto and the awe inspiring experience of visiting the Arena Chapel and being surrounded by his fresco cycle that paved the way for the Renaissance ... I think I've open up my Pandora's box) is the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy. I became familiar with his work a few years ago when I saw the film Rivers and Tides. Watching Goldworthy work and talk about his process, my reaction was "That's IT! That is how I want to feel! That is how I want to engage with my world!" It is not so much a conscious decision to be "making something"; rather, my impulse is a need to experience life through art making. To grapple with understanding myself and how I fit into the scheme of things in this wide Universe, I feel like art is the means by which I can form some kind of cohesive response to the question "why?" It is what tethers me to my world; it is, I am now realizing, a form of worship and a means by which to offer and acknowledge my gratitude for this precious life.
What is the story I am trying to tell? I think I can begin to answer that by considering this question Tharp asks: "What do you and your role models have in common?"
I would say, an intense examination of what it means to be human; a deeply felt desire to connect; a playful, joy-filled approach towards life; and a conscious choice to celebrate and seek out the sacred in the everyday.
How would you describe your creative DNA? Who inspires you and why? How do you wish to tell your one precious story?