Once upon a time, in a job interview, I was asked which side I was more drawn to, discipline or creativity. I blinked and said, “They’re opposites?”
People tend to think of creativity and disciplined process as if they were opposite things, which has always puzzled me. Creativity is not the same as chaos, and discipline does not indicate a lack of imagination. An artist who starts the day with some gesture drawings, paints for two hours, breaks for lunch, and then goes back to paint the rest of the day has a disciplined process, but the process says nothing about what gets painted. Similarly, the process of creating a painting ““ sketching, then underpainting, then adding middle tones, darks, and highlights in whatever order ““ is fairly well-established. But, far from stifling creativity, it supports it by giving it a framework in which to work.
It is true that there are two styles of creating – planned and spontaneous – and that these do tend to be opposites. In planned creation, one comes up with a vision, and then executes to that vision. In spontaneous creation, one works “on the inspiration of the moment” and doesn’t necessarily know how the piece will turn out until it “feels” complete. Both are valid ways of working. The advantage of planned creation is that the design can be worked out in advance; you’re unlikely to “paint yourself into a corner” and there is less risk of a disappointing result. The advantage of spontaneous creation is serendipitous discovery: by flinging caution to the winds and “just doing it”, you can frequently arrive at results you would never have dreamed of if you’d tried to plan everything in advance.
Some media lend themselves better to spontaneous/planned creation than others. Stamping, for example, lends itself well to spontaneous creation: one can pick up any random object from around the house, dip it in paint, then stamp fabric with it every which way. Weaving, on the other hand, does not do so well for spontaneous creation: significant advance planning and analysis is typically required to weave a successful piece.
Most people fall somewhere between the poles. I personally am an inveterate planner, and don’t feel comfortable with spontaneous creation at all. This is something I’m hoping to change – not because there’s anything wrong with my style, but because I think understanding different styles will give me access to far more possibilities than a single style alone. So I do plan to spend some time making “art cloth”, using commercial cloth and then dyeing, stamping, stenciling, etc. it spontaneously, on the fly. It will stretch my creative comfort zone, but that’s not a bad thing.
Speaking of trying new things, I’ve signed up for an online shibori class. It meets once a week for five weeks, and promises to be really interesting. From what I can tell, it’s more of an overview class – covering a lot of different techniques – than an in-depth study, but that’s exactly what I need right now, so it sounds perfect! It starts March 9. I’m hoping to use some of my freshly-woven tencel/alpaca fabric for at least some of the samples. It will be the perfect vehicle for testing some of my ideas.