It is well known that leaping into the void of the unknown, or rather, making the first mark on a canvas, is one of the most difficult hurdles an artist must cross in order to succeed at creativity. Without this leap of faith there isn’t an iota of a chance for anything new to happen. The above image shows Roberta Salma, Studio 4, happily post leap and comfortably settling into her flow.
Here at PAI we have artists making all types of leaps: the first paint that is splashed onto canvas; chisel chipped into stone; even scissor snipped into fabric. Why, even selecting a model to photograph can be seen as a leap of faith into the unknown. Inspiration is what helps the artist make that leap, but the shadow world is always present: “What if I make a bonehead move and it doesn’t work out and, oh no, I ruin the canvas? ...the stone? ...the fabric? ...the model (oops, sorry, miss).”
Less known is that the leaps are not just at the beginning, but are riddled throughout the process of creating any type of non-formulaic product. The difference is that they feel slightly less painful because once in freefall, one cannot become more in freefall. The stress is never far away, even when the struggle turns into a gracefully productive glide that can feel quite seductive. If the piece of art is not finished (which of course it isn’t because we’ve just started) there appears a nagging voice in the head, nattering on about how important it is to keep the glide graceful ... and then, oh no, it’s so graceful it’s loosing oomph so I’ve got to poke some jazz into it and yikes! Not that much jazz! Wipe that out..., back track..., and now where was the flow again? Have I lost it? Ah, no, here... yes... here it is... and again in we go with this and that and ... oh, darn, wipe it out, quick. Phew! Caught it. And onward the artist gambles, day after day, until a new world (product) is created.
Such might be the verbal expressions of passion and frustration that erupt from the workroom of Kevyn Warnock, Studio 25. I remember she was particularly expressive when tackling “Morning in the Forest,” above, as she worked with determination to create a visual path of light and dark that beckoned the visitor forward with her off the horizontal plane at the bottom and back through the mystery of the layered sky/trees beyond.
Let’s say that this kind of constant back and forth, leaping in and out of the fire, while stressful in one way, can be amazingly healthy for the mind. These creative leaps actually stimulate healthy brain activity, forcing active communications between the right and the left hemispheres, building new neurons of artistic/practical knowledge. The artist gets daily practice in taking risks, righting what becomes out-of-whack, and adjusting to his changing reality.
Okay, now let’s lean ourselves out over the abyss, goggle our eyes (as chair painter Nancy Woods, Studio 12, has her character doing above), and ask this question: Can art viewers experience a similar balancing of their brains when they view art that ventures beyond their comfort zone?
This is a question that Jonathan Fineberg explores in his new book, “Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain.” The gist of what he says is that Modern Art (abstract art) is not easy for the viewer to immediately grasp because the art does not look like our normally perceived physical world. In order for the viewer to come up with a rational thought about abstract art, he/she must use both sides of the brain to find answers that can only be found by building new neural connections. Building these connections teaches the brain how to handle change. And handling change is what being a productive human being is all about.
Accepting this philosophy, what I’m wondering next is do we viewers have the power to look at artwork, any kind of artwork, and think in a new way that grows our brains? Is it possible to come up with questions that when answered transforms the familiar into something that actually moves us into new territories of knowledge, thereby giving us practice in the field of adapting to change?
Above we have the painting “Fall in the Carneros” by Carolyn Shaw, Studio 9. It is beautifully balanced and calming to view. I am hoping to learn something from this piece when I think beyond the pleasure of the moment. Aside from color/lighting/composition, and brush techniques, my questions might be: What does this artist know about the disruptive part of life and has this artist achieved this level of balance through experience? What can I learn about balance by looking at this painting? Can I apply what I see in this painting to some part of my life (de-clutter inspiration)?
PAI is opening all studio doors on November 7th and 8th, the first full weekend of the month. This special event happens only twice a year, with all 30 artists inviting visitors into their workspaces to see their work and perhaps engage with their processes. As you wander the artist’s studios, I invite you to look not only for what you understand, but also for what you don’t understand. Take the leap onto the blank canvas by making a stab at the unknown. In doing so you might be giving yourself a gift that extends far beyond a day’s viewing of beautiful artwork.
“PAI on My Mind” contains the personal observations of the artist in Studio 26, and not necessarily those of PAI as a whole.