Saturday, March 2, 2013

Seeing Through Fresh Eyes

I am nearing the end of my paintings on the Jewish Identity and Legacy series and my thoughts are turning to the inevitable question, "what's next?" When I started down this road, it didn't occur to me that unlike a regular job, I have to continually create my own "what's next" , something I find alternately burdensome and exhilarating. The latter comes mainly after I've figured it out or at least have a hunch. But part of the creative process is birthing creation and not unlike pregnancy it can involve burden as well as anticipation.

How does one find inspiration? For me inspiration often comes through the ability to see through fresh eyes. That is why travel has often inspired artwork, taking me out of my everyday. I pay attention, I notice things that may not have garnered my attention on familiar turf. Seeing in fresh ways can come through changing surroundings. It can also come through new inputs and experiences from books, workshops or discussions.

I recently began participating in an Artists' Lab* called Text/Context/Subtext sponsored by Sabes JCC. Funded by a grant from the Covenant Foundation, this project is being done in Milwaukee and Madison as well as in Minneapolis. The lab is run by several facilitators, a rabbi, an educator and several arts facilitators. It includes artists of various mediums from painting to photography to poetry and more. At its meetings we discuss a text which can take many forms, it could be a religious text, a TED lecture or a film. That discussion is followed by an arts exercise and discussion of what we learned from it. One of the valuable things I hope to get from it is the opportunity to interact with other artists around topics that we all tend to address in isolation, behind the closed door of our studio.

At the last session the rabbi led off with a passage from Exodus 20:15. The passage starts with the Ten Commandments, but ends with this curious line. "The entire people saw the thunder and the flames, the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain; the people saw and trembled and stood from afar". We discussed the curious part, seeing thunder, seeing the sound of the shofar? Ah ha I thought, thinking of the reading from Kandinsky that had been sent out. He had painted music, using one sense to tease out another. I began to think about how I would paint that passage, creating a vibrational feeling with a repetition of echoing forms.

The rabbi then introduced the Early Morning Prayer which he translated as "praised are you Adonai our God, Master of Space and Time, who opens the eyes of the blind. I liked the phrase "opens the eyes of the blind". I thought of how creativity calls for seeing the world through fresh eyes. Not a bad prayer for creative efforts. Let me see through fresh eyes.

The Kandinsky passage that we read spoke of how a creative person uses one sense to leverage others. All of our senses are passageways to creativity. Music is by its nature less representational so can offer other pathways to capturing the essence of one's subject without necessarily relying on more literal means.

The second half of the session we tried a Kandinsky-like exercise, painting to music or perhaps painting music. In this exercise we began our effort and then passed it to another person who contributed to it before passing it on to yet another person. What I found interesting was that by giving up possession, I felt that I was more free to play with it and risk, perhaps less invested in outcome. New approaches were offered by other artists that often took me off in different directions than if I were working in isolation. I often find that when I let go of control and outcome, I arrive at a more successful painting, Sometimes I paint over my first attempt and then work with what shows through. It is easy to get too invested in a painting that isn't working, but be too afraid to let go of it and start over. Not too unlike life.

So already a thought-provoking introduction. Later in the year we will do an exhibition that grows out of these discussions. I look forward to seeing where it takes me.

*The Jewish Artists’ Laboratory is an arts initiative through the Sabes Jewish Community Center featuring 17 artists exploring the theme of Text/Context/Subtext through study and art making. The project is funded through The Covenant Foundation and similar projects are being done in both Milwaukee and Madison. Artists explore how the theme of Text/Context/Subtext is relevant to Jews and non-Jews, to religious and non-religious, to the community and to the individual, to the artist and the non-artist.

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