We redecorated the smallest room recently and I have been trying to find exactly the right art piece for it. I commissioned myself to produce a new piece of art for the loo. After much playing and a lot of fun, I have designed a tryptic, based on the expressive life drawing classes I’m taking with @chriswoodartist at the moment.
At the classes I go large – A1 – but these are tiny, about 5″ square, so I can mount them in a particular frame. They look great!
Watercolour, oil pastels, wax crayon and acrylic inks. (Click for a larger version).
I realised that after talking about it for a long time, I haven’t actually recorded what I found and summarised my thoughts.
I enjoyed researching this subject immensely and found myself getting deep into the area, I would not have anticipated the conclusions I now draw.
When I reflected on my process, I realised that it resembled a tree, I started off with a trunk with one question on. I divided it into two – subversion and creativity, neither of which I knew much about, my aim was to understand these two areas fully, before I could then see where one influenced the other. Each time I read a book, article or found an artist, the topic branched, one idea led to another, until I had numerous ‘leaves’.
At first I concentrated on subversion, a subject I had not thought about before. I read from books, looked at articles online and researched many artists. I could have done several talks just about them but sadly there was not time. Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, Francesca Woodman, Banksy, Jann Haworth, Martha Rosler – there is an endless list of artists who subverted the politics of the day or peoples’ thoughts and opinions.
Researching Banksy was especially interesting as I thought I knew his work but discovered that he has been responsible for so much more than I realised. What I like about his work is the intelligence with which it is staged – it is always carefully planned, perfectly placed and always challenges some belief or opinion whilst maintaining a healthy sense of humour about serious subjects.
Subversion can be bold and obvious or extremely subtle. It is a form of rebellion, kicking back against the status quo.
I read about the Trickster character in mythology and felt that, this eternal character, was part of our makeup, and the source of subversion. Tricksters are dangerous, have no respect for authority or the rules. They mess things up and this is how society progresses and moves forward.
During the time of doing the research I wanted to do something ‘subversive’ myself. Initially I felt that being subversive meant being somewhat offensive (often just for the sake of it) and since that isn’t really ‘me’ I did think of being overly polite as a subversion of subversion! I thought about having t-shirts made with things like “Thank you very much” and “No, after you!” or perhaps “Yes please” on them but firstly I found upon doing some research that you can already get t-shirts that say such things and secondly, some phrases may still have been misconstrued as sexual, which was not my aim. I then considered my existing art practice which is somewhat subversive already – to accepted watercolour painting techniques anyway – as I paint with watercolour neat from the tube directly onto the paper, using a cut down DIY paintbrush from B&Q.
I started to look at creativity and the information I found was fascinating. At the start of this, I would have assumed that being creative was genetic – I come from a creative family for instance, my great-grandparents, great-aunt, aunt, father and two cousins are/were all artists. It seems that there is a small genetic component, but the story is much more complex. Creativity it seems is not a ‘thing’ it’s a process that is multifaceted, and combined with a selection of character traits, personal histories and a bit of luck will manifest itself as creative. Perhaps creativity seems to run in families because the particular character traits that it requires are encouraged within families, skills are also learnt at your parents knee which combine to make being creative seem a desirable use of time.
I am always interested in psychology and wanted to look into where certain creative and subversive traits come from. I am familiar with Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis (TA) model of ego states and I propose that the free child described in TA is the same as Trickster described in mythology and by Jung as an archetype. I believe that this is the source of creativity.
It was fascinating to bring these threads together and show how certain traits may be influenced by our ego state, our very early upbringing and our later childhood experiences (which shape us emotionally). All of this is conjecture of course but I have discussed it with a psychotherapist who feels it is a reasonable conclusion to draw. Regarding creativity being genetic, it has long been believed that psychological issues and behaviours are passed from parent to child (subconsciously) and so, if some degree of emotional impact is necessary for creativity to flourish (Grayson Perry certainly feels it is – Reith Lectures 2013), then this will also be replicated down generations, albeit being diluted and changed by each one.
Having done a great deal of reading and research, I mapped out what I had learnt and from that my conclusions were fairly straightforward. Subversion is so closely linked with creativity as to be indistinguishable from it, but it is possible to be creative without being subversive. However, creativity without a point to make could be considered, well, pointless and I would argue that subversion gives creativity its purpose, its energy and drive.
Is there any great art work that is not subversive?
Andreasen, N. (2014). Secrets of the creative brain. The Atlantic, 62-75.
Banksy. (2005). Wall and piece. London: Century.
Banksy does New York. (2013). Sky Arts.
Barrett, E., & Bolt, B. (2010). Practice as Research. United Kingdom: IB Tauris Co.
BBC Documentary. (2015, 11 3). Imagine – Anthony Gormley.
Cantu, L., Gundersen, D. E., & Rozell, E. J. (2012). Creativity and critical thinking: What is it? Who has it? How do we get more of it? Feature Edition, 108-126.
A friend recently pointed me towards this video of the marvelous water-colorist Vera Bobson from Canada. I love her work, I had not previously heard about her but I have great respect for anyone who says “break the rules” !
One thing that I think is essential in order to develop your own artistic style is to mimic that of the artists you admire. You can learn so much from attempting to create something you love. And as you try, over and over to learn techniques, you can slowly develop your own style until your work is not a copy but a nod to the original artist.
I have done this in the past with Van Gogh, My dog sighs and now Vera Bobson.
“Art is theft” Pablo Picasso
“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. nothing is completely original.” Austin Kleon from “Steal like an artist”
The trick of course is to learn from the experience and add something more, something of yourself into the work to improve it and make it uniquely yours.
My first attempt had poor masking tape and the colours bled, but when I tried again with better quality stuff (Frog tape) I was very pleased with the result (above). It was fun to get my watercolours out again, it has been a while since I painted properly – I use a cut down DIY 1inch brush, paint standing up and take the watercolour paint from the tube. Much like Vera does (or as it appears in the video) and that’s why I liked her style, it was close to my own (but oh so much better!).
I love the result and would love to hear your comments too!
(I highly recommend Austins book by the way, very inspiring).
Day six, I am quite impressed with myself for getting to nearly a week without cheating. For six days I have taken one picture only, no deleting, and posted whatever I took. I can’t say it’s been high art but it has been very interesting. I have found it hard, not the bit about finding my subject for the day, they always jump out at me, but only taking one picture of it. Normally I would set about trying to capture what I saw by trying different angles, different crops, different exposures etc.
I had a profound thought about creativity when I was painting the fence at 8 o’clock this morning – but unfortunately I have completely forgotten what it was, which is annoying and I blame old age!
However, interestingly, I just got my paints out and did 3 paintings just now. All rather experimental and I am not sure if I have anything worth keeping but I haven’t painted for months. My paints are held in various ice-cream containers and I loved the way they tumbled onto the desk in all their colourful glory – as if to say “Here we are! What are you going to do with us?”
So perhaps there is a certain amount of creativity in me and if I am not using it up on photography, it’s going to leak out into watercolours!
Unfortunately, I can’t take a picture of my finished pieces to show you!
I am very excited about tomorrow. I have the chance to attend a workshop with two local street artists who I greatly admire – I have no idea what we will be doing, but just to meet them and learn from them is a huge thrill. I will be taking my camera and I think, I will probably be breaking my one a day rule tomorrow. The opportunity to go to the city, travel on the ferry and the train and mix with other artists in an urban setting will, I suspect, be too much for me not to capture.