"Lotus Opening" by L. Folk

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Every Artist Is a Cannibal: Thoughts on the Creative Process

It always begins with some agitation, like a grain of sand in the oyster belly of my brain. I have some idea of what I want to do, and the struggle is mainly to find the time. When I begin, there is always anxiety, especially with painting, because I am still insecure with the medium. With poetry and prose, it's like diving. I hurl myself into it, despite the critic on my back, always comparing, whispering, berating.

Inspiration is necessary for invention, the first part of the creative process. This is the temptation, the coaxing that makes everything possible. Yes, you must have faith. Yes, you must be courageous. Confident. Some people can't get past these  requirements. But what really fires the mind is work that's already been done, work that has some element you seek for your own. When I wrote A Portal to Vibrancy, I wanted a sense of immediacy in the voice and a banquet of images in the prose. I kept Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye always nearby and would read a few pages to get the rhythm, the style in my head. I suppose it's a kind of stealing (Every artist is a cannibal, Bono says); you're stealing someone else's fire to galvanize yourself.

Once I've put something down on the page, the canvas, I look for clues in the work itself of what it wants to be. This is sort of like seeing the sculpture in the stone. You've got to believe it's there. With the painting pictured here, I wanted the ethereal white of the table cloth to be prominent. This painting actually started out as a pastel I created from a photo in a gardening book. I agonized over how I was going to capture the flora in the backdrop--all of those damn leaves! I tried a more impressionistic approach, but that didn't look right. I had studied Matisse, his simplifying things with large blocks of color. I spray-fixed the drab pastel and then pulled out the paint. The white acrylic felt right. I colored the backdrop a haze of burgeoning green, the green of late spring, the green that says the Earth is alive again. This felt right too. I had abandoned my ideas of realism for the feel, the dreamlike style of something deeper. By refusing to embrace detail, I traded craft for simplicity, arduous work for flair.

What I have learned in being a creator is that I am less focused on product than I used to be. Ego likes to clutch at its own gifts to itself. I clutch less. I have faith that the statue in the stone will, step by step, be unveiled. It is an exploration, whether it be a poem, a novel, a painting, a stroke, a sentence. You just stay with it until you get it right, and when you get it right, it's a notch on your belt. Empowering. This is what keeps me coming back.