An artist learns by repeated trial and error, by an almost moral instinct, to avoid the merely or the confusingly decorative . . . to say what he has to say with the most direct and economical means, to be true to his objects, to his materials, to his technique, and hence, by a correlated miracle, to himself.
Irwin Edman, Arts and the Man
This will be the third time I lead a watercolor workshop in the Corpus Christi area. And I just realized that my mental/emotional preparation has always been the same–to rise while it’s still dark, repair myself to the neighborhood Starbucks, sip my coffee, nibble at my sandwich, and scratch out on small pieces of paper the ideas beginning to percolate, hoping that they will resonate in a few hours when I face a room full of strangers who have trusted me enough–a stranger–to help them become better watercolorists.
I’m reading the Bible this morning. The opening verse in Genesis records that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” St. Augustine, poring over those words, concluded that the first thing God created was time. God, an ocean of eternity, pure Being, created time, and then simultaneously created space. Then God began organizing the space–dividing light from darkness, land from water–manipulating the space before him. Abstract Expressionist artist Robert Motherwell said that drawing was a way of dividing and organizing space; the artist manipulates space.
Twenty-seven verses into Genesis, the words testify that God finally created humans “in his own image.” The Imago Dei, image of God. What does it mean to be created in the image of God? When the first thing the Bible records about God is that he is a Being who creates, then creates humans in his own image, I like to conclude that humans were created with the essential capacity and will to create. We create because it is in us. Humans create, whether they be artists, laborers or executives–humans manipulate the space before them.
Does a bird singing in the morning realize the beauty of its song, or is the bird just doing what birds do? Is a spider aware of the beauty and symmetry of the web it spins, or is the spider just doing what spiders do? Why do artists create? Because it is in them; people are constituted to create.
I hope my workshop participants will appreciate that they will improve as artists by making art and more art. When one continues to create, s/he cannot help but to improve. Bach wrote a cantata a week in the service of the Church, and some of the pieces weren’t that good. But had he not had the courage to compose inferior music, he never would have gotten to the good work. Emerson said that the pump brings up the muddy water first, before the clear water follows. Likewise, writers and artists have to get the junk out on the paper before the good stuff follows. There is plenty of debris-clearing that precedes good art. T. S. Eliot created a great deal of good poetry, but also a great deal of bad poetry. But he created. He is T. S. Eliot. Artists create a large body of good work and bad work. Artists create, period.
My hope (prayer) for this workshop is that I hand the artists several more tools for their toolbox. Every workshop makes me a better artist, because I learn a great deal from the participants’ suggestions and techniques, and I hope they are learning more from the suggestions and techniques I offer in return–a gift exchange.
Thanks for reading.
I make art in order to learn.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.