Sunday, June 16, 2013

All Beginnings are Hard

We began our Artists' Lab* with an exercise to loosen up, a few rousing rounds of Do-re-mi which of course begins with the phrase "Let's Start at the Very Beginning" as our theme was beginnings. We were asked to consider why beginnings were difficult. What was the challenge with beginning a painting or any creative effort? I proposed that we begin with all possibilities open, but once we make that first brushstroke we have begun to narrow our options. Each stroke commits us to a direction as it simultaneously closes off others. It is at the beginning that we are most conscious of the weight of those choices. The creative process is often one of carving away from a universe of all possibilities to one singular creation. 
In the Artists' Lab we often reference text for insights and we began with an beautiful excerpt from Chaim Potek's In the Beginning. The character David is told, "all beginnings are hard. You have to work at the job of studying... you cannot swallow the world all at one time." Later David adds, "especially a beginning that you make by yourself. That's the hardest beginning of all."

We then shifted to another book titled Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life by Irwin Kula. Kula talks of the anxiety and failure that accompanies creativity. The moments of "flow" are unpredictable and much of our time is spent trying to find our way. Creativity comes out of uncertainty and letting go of the familiar so by its very definition is challenging. Kula outlines four stage to creativity: Inspiration, Preparation, Incubation and Illumination. He defines inspiration as identifying a problem we want to solve. Preparation is skill development, the hard work of developing a craft or researching an idea. Incubation is for me the most interesting and difficult stage. I am learning to trust that ideas will come, but in their own time and often by not focusing too intently on the challenge. Kula gives a wonderful example of how Thomas Edison would doze off holding a ball in each hand. When he relaxed enough to loosen his grip the balls would fall to the ground and wake him. He would then make notes on ideas that came to him. I find that much of my writings and ideas for artwork happen in that semi-awake state when ideas flow freely, usually early morning when I awake or as I practice breathing in yoga. The final stage is Illumination. Often it feels a bit magical. It can't be scripted, but rather invited in after we've done the hard work that precedes it.

 We turned to how the Bible treated the subject of beginnings. In Genesis in the first act of creation, God declares, "Let there be light." He later creates Day and Night by dividing the light. How does creation occur? Why through naming and through differentiation. Day is distinct from Night. It is a singular creation that contains all that makes it unique, carved out of the whole of light. Midrash (Jewish commentary) talks about how God created many worlds before he got to the working model that we know so well. Creation is an improvisation, failure a step along the way. All meaningful reference points for artists as we approach the act of creation.

*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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