Beginning the Way of the Arts
Beginning the Way of the Artsby Donald W. Mathews
Something has moved you as an adult to begin creative expression again. As a spontaneous child you once sang, danced and made images instinctively. You also probably imagined yourself living many different roles in your daily play. Perhaps now you feel the absence of creativity in your life. Perhaps you remember the pleasure of an art experience. Trust the process of the subtle push toward art and creative expression from inside you -- it is the gentle call of your heart and renewed search for soul. It is an opening to expansion of your expressive abilities and the discovery of hidden limitations ready to be challenged. Be open to what it means, it has many possibilities for action in every part of your life. Ultimately it will lead to significant personal changes -- to living life in a new way with new tools of creative expression.
This call is a mysterious awakening to new growth and development coming from your psyche over and over again throughout your life. It comes appropriately as you finish one phase and are ready for another. We know the patterns although each individual has their own timing. Perhaps you are aware others (mother, father, family, school peers, cultural groups, professional groups, etc.) really controlled your choices and protected your growth through various stages of life (infant, child, pubescent, adolescent, early adult, adult, etc.) until you felt confined with the need for more independent choices. Cultural conditioning is our primary guide through life and is usually unconscious. Now, you again feel the call to freedom. It is time to respond to unfoldment of your own spontaneous creative potential -- to express from the uniqueness of your soul and discover your divine purpose. This inner journey is spiritual work! It requires a great deal of courage and experience to overcome fears -- many of which are hidden. To purposely meet the fierce challenges life always brings takes a life time of preparation. Ultimately, it prepares one to meet the final human challenge of death itself.
Answering this call is complicated because various characters live inside our psychic house and help act out our life drama. We know all characters from the various personal stages of our life remain alive somewhere inside us. They reside in our subconscious or deep unconscious and are longing to be recognized. We see them in our dreams and sometimes to our surprise, in our behavior. We like and identify with some while others are quite embarrassing. Actually many, including the artist within, may not have ever come forward yet or are just now beginning show themselves. Expressing in the arts helps us to discover and form working relationships with them. Image making is a good way to begin.
What is art?
Art is any conscious human expression using sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements that arouses strong contemplation and the delight or pleasure of feelings. I use art in the larger sense as the whole fine arts spectrum of painting, drawing, writing, acting, music, dance, etc. The arts stimulate and affect us! This is true for the artist and others who share the effort in some way. It doesn't seem to matter if the stimulated feeling is joyful or sorrowful. Often it is the shared experience that seems to inspire us, to transcend our separateness and expand the richness of our lives. It is when we feel the pleasure of this inseparable bond with something or someone else that we feel a spiritual connection.
The artist is an expert in feeling and responding to the subtle inner process known as the muse or Muses. The Greeks identified nine different Goddesses as the Muses under Apollo -- the God of light, music, divination, poetry, and medicine. The Muses were young virgins with particular expertise who dwelled in springs of pure mountain water and who had the power of inspiration and prophecy. Likewise, flowing from the wellspring of our own feelings and emotions are virginal or original creative inspiration and answers from our deeper self in response to what ever questions we may ask. However, the answer or prophecy always requires imagination for interpretation since it generally travels as metaphor or is hidden in the mystery of our artistic expression and its content.
Emotional reactions to sensory input (five senses plus intuition) provide feelings of both attraction and repulsion to guide personal contemplation and expression in the arts. Creative expression is a gateway to self discovery and understanding of the hidden content or mysteries of life. Contemplation of our artistic works provides honest direction for our life action from our soul. Thus the Muses provide divine guidance and ultimately leads us into full participation with all life and its evolution.
The Craft -- Visual Arts:
The Craft -- Subject & Content:
The subject is often the conscious outer focus of something with many deeper layers of hidden content. Subject is the handle or door to content both conscious and unconscious that has the motivating factor of mystery. There are two approaches to finding a subject or image to illustrate. One way is to randomly work or doodle using the elements of craft until a recognizable image comes forward out of the chaos. It helps to turn emerging work in different directions until a recognizable form or subject triggers the imagination. This is much like finding recognizable forms in clouds or other natural objects -- it is a wonderful screen for our unconscious to provide form. Chance often plays a significant part in this dance allowing the person to get outside of normal interests or subjects.
However at the beginning, most artists have some kind of idea or image in mind as a starting point that holds their interest. Master artists often use a combination of these two approaches -- having learned to follow loosely a subtle subject, interest or idea with curiosity until content has enough energy to demand hard personal work. At some point, the mature artist generally wants to shift motivation from external to internal or personal rewards of creativity. To always slave to a tyrant of outer accomplishment ultimately kills off motivation and the creative muse. The difficult discipline of the arts is best fed by personal motivation and internal rewards as every educator knows -- thus it is important to be clear with one's goals and purposes. Mature artists do not become discouraged by lack of skill, rather they respond with the challenge to learn and expand their skills and interests. It is an interesting dichotomy of the arts -- although the artist is frequently creating an illusion or communicating subjectively, the artist is also trying to objectify something personally meaningful but very intangible at the beginning.
The Craft -- Drawing:
There are three classic approaches to drawing: contour, gesture, and analytical methods. Eventually all three are incorporated by an artist when drawing. The main idea however is to connect the eye as a visual sensor to the hand as the tool of expression without hindrance or distortion from the mind. (Although later, paradoxically, distortions of the mind's filters reveal interesting personal styles that make the work art!) Using the left/right model of brain function, both hemispheres are called upon for use to capture inner and outer representation. This is learning representation with its inherent accuracy.
The Craft -- Color:
Colors of the rainbow (Hues) conveniently appear in a clockwise circle as shown in opposite (complimentary) pairs that mix to gray (red-green, orange-blue, etc.). This circle also illustrates relationship of the three primary colors (red, yellow, blue), and three secondary colors (orange, green, violet) that evolve by mixing neighboring primary colors. Analogous colors are neighbors. When mixed they provide a harmony of colors more and more complex without turning gray or muddy as do the opposites (blue-green, red-orange, etc.). Notice some colors are warm while others are cool giving many color possibilities to reflect feelings and ideas of an artistic expression. Blends of opposite colors also provide complex gray colors toward one or the other polarity of cool or warm.
Value is an important element and is the relative quality of light or dark from white (high) to black (low). Since color hues do not approach these extremes, we introduce white and black to our color field. White mixed with other colors provides tints (pale pastels). Black mixed with other colors provides shades.
I believe this brief theory is all a person needs to enter the artist's world of color -- the rest comes from experience, lots and lots of experience! In reality, when mixing various pigments from color manufacturers, the colors do not behave as theoretically outlined so one must spend some time playing with the materials to build a personal pallet of color expression. Don't forget colors you normally dislike!
One can begin with a simple child's watercolor box or purchase some water based pigments. Traditional watercolors are transparent and remain soluble in water to a certain degree. Traditionally white comes from the paper and calls for planning to achieve certain images. Acrylic paints turn to plastic when dry and can be used as opaque paints to cover or change color using a little polymer medium to thin to a sensuous mix. Although the colors may not be as rich as oils, the quick drying quality and lack of odor are very convenient. When thinned a lot with water, acrylics handle very much like watercolors.
The Craft -- Painting:
With painting, we are dealing with major surface areas rather than the linear aspect of line as used in drawing. In both cases we normally are trying to create a three-dimensional realm using a two-dimensional approach, although the modern school typically accepts two-dimensionally as the primary idea. In the beginning, do not be to concerned about form or shape details -- just see the relative relationship of major areas that make up the complete surface of the painting as interlocking puzzle pieces that form a whole picture. Once the major shapes are set out, they can be reformed and refined as often as necessary using the opaque quality of the paint until they take on the required form to convey the illusion of the painted realm. With traditional watercolors, the white of the paper is frequently used as a fixed primary form thus creating a challenge in planning for the artist. Since the color is generally not opaque, selected detail can be added using line or layered form to organize the emerging image. And of course, there are no limits to use of mixed media. Anything goes beyond the creative edge!