Sunday, December 16, 2007

Classes vs. Creativity

Taking classes is an interesting exercise. I like to do it mostly as a guaranteed vacation. Someone else does all the prep work and clean up, and I just waltz in, follow directions for a few hours and make something fun. For this stressed homeschool mom, that is the perfect escape.

But what is the real point of classes from the point of making art??

I've been variously instructed to avoid exposure to the work of others for fear of then making -- big derisive snort here -- derivative work. You know, when someone runs out and starts trying to sell work that looks exactly like the work of the artist whose class they just attended. It seems obviously in bad taste, not to mention not quite sensible, to pay for the privilege of making your own hard work look like that of somebody else. But then what is the point of learning their methods?

My take on it is to get inside the head of an artist I admire. How do they do basic techniques? It can be rather surprising to see how many different ways exist of assembling the same simple structure, be it glass or fiber. How do they approach design work? Are they planners, who know exactly what they will make before they start? Are they opportunists, who go with the flow and like spontaneity and surprises? Do they have cool tools? Ahhh, there's one I really like. I seem to be a collector of cool tools.

Sitting in class, following instructions is simple enough, although some days I can't even do that well. Then there comes the point where I'm at home, with all that new knowledge in my head. What to do? Some people like to make more to consolidate the technical skills. I almost never do that, at least not exactly like we did in class.

Instead, I try to sieve through the mass of information for one idea that sparks something new for my own work. In the case of the workshop I took last week, with Michael Barley, although I admire his beads tremendously (and even more since I've seen first hand how difficult they are to make), I decided to experiment with some of his ideas as backgrounds for my painted beads.

I used Michael's common procedure of wrapping silver leaf over a base color, then adding spreading dots and twisty stringers to make some simple base beads. Then I had fun sketching simple drawings of birds and flowers in the openings. Now I'm trying to think up more ideas for backgrounds of my very own. Eventually they may look nothing like Michael's work, but I will always know that the path to them started in a weekend escape class.