Douglas Ross and myself self-published a book back in June 2020. It’s mainly a photo art book but also with a fair bit of text and it’s taken inspiration from my experiences of living with voices throughout my life.
The process of creating the artwork for the book was collaborative and more of a meandering journey of exploration than any other art project I have done. I can easily get too focused on one idea and on how to get there. Working with Doug has been a learning experience in many different ways.
We did an online workshop in 2021 at the yearly International Hearing Voices Congress and this year we decided to take the artwork to a conference in Cork – the same conference where we met more than 10 years ago. We wanted to do a workshop, have a bookstall and an exhibition space. Luckily the organisers were very helpful and it was possible to do all three.
We also decided to do some writing that we could share with people at the bookstall and the workshop. Doug wrote a great piece with some reflections on how to collaborate with others to create art. I wrote some reflections about being in a human body.
I would like to share those two pieces.
Making a Creative Start by Doug Ross
For many people the idea of creating a meaningful work of art is so daunting that they find it difficult to even make a start. Here are a few pointers that I have gathered from 40 years of experience.
Passion. Work out what you feel passionate about and let it be your guide. Develop your concept and only then work out how you are going to actually make it. Too many creative ideas are killed off by getting too fixed on what the concept will look like, and the explorer then telling themselves that they lack the skills to make the work as they initially envisage it.
Explore! Art doesn’t come from the logical part of our psyche. The most valuable material for making art that speaks to the heart and soul lies in the deeper recesses of our psyche. Here are a few suggestions on how to access the deeper levels of the psyche.
1. Set your compass, rather than using a map. By this I mean that you have a general direction that you want to head in, rather than fixed steps or an end goal. Realise that you are going to encounter all sorts of surprises and adventures on the creative journey…these are likely to be the most fascinating elements of the work.
2. Hints. Finding hints in what you are attracted to in art, books, childhood stories, film, etc. Recall stories, films, etc. that made a lasting impression on you and ask yourself what it was about them that really struck home. Ask yourself who made a strong impression on you within your personal circle or in the public arena…and what was it about them?…what can this tell you about yourself? Are you a city or country person?…sea or mountains ? favourite season(s) etc. Allow some time to contemplate all these things and let your imagination go on a journey, noting what it throws up along the way.
3. Dialogue. If you are working on a collaborative art work you can engage in 1-3 above with your partner(s). Listening to each other with an open heart means being open to finding a place where everyone lights up at certain ideas. A big board where all ideas are noted will help keep all ideas alive and for everyone to see when certain ideas take on momentum. If you are working on a solo piece, it can be really helpful to “think out loud” with someone who can hear you and support you in digging deeper. Even just hearing yourself articulate your ideas can help energize and clarify them. A big board can be useful for the solo art maker too, watching what attracts your attention most often. In this regard it may be that loads is bubbling up from the sub-conscious and may end up being the basis for more than one piece of work.
4. Trusting the non-rational. So, in your initial explorations you’ve looked at all sorts of ideas and this will create a point of energy that will help draw up symbols, motifs and images from the deeper parts of your consciousness. Have you ever noticed what interesting ideas enter your consciousness just as you are falling asleep and as you start to wake. This is when the brain in in the Alpha brainwave zone. It’s worth making note of these ideas, even if they don’t make logical sense. It is also possible to induce this state of mind by sitting still, eyes closed and without distractions, notebook in hand and writing down ideas as they enter your consciousness. Let yourself drift off with the notebook in your lap and pick it up as something interesting comes into your mind. Don’t concentrate, just wander. Of course dreams are great pointers too. Your theme for the work is established through your explorations and now it is time to let the sub-conscious surprize you with its wonder-filled motifs. Patience, openness and curiosity will bear fruit.
One foot in front of the other…
Once you have an initial draft that you are excited about, make a commitment to playing with it (as opposed to “succeeding”). If you commit to playing creatively, three things should happen: you will have fun; you will feel the healthy buzz of expressiveness; you will grow. As Goethe said; “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.” Commitment and play may seem a little contradictory, but what I am suggesting is that we aim to give something a decent try without worrying if the end result will be a “success”. As Samuel Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” Commitment is not taking on a huge task all at once. It is taking one step at a time: just buy or gather your materials and only after you have done this commit to the next small step (arrange workspace) and so on….