Words to Create By - A Monthly Series
A chief influence in my creative life has been writer Donald M. Murray (1924-2006), who was my mentor at the University of New Hampshire. We have a shelf of his books, but the one that relates to this blog is Shoptalk: Learning to Write with Writers (1990). An obsessive collector of quotations, it was natural at some point that Murray would gather and organize them into a book. It is my first source, because each month’s blog in 2016 will be a response to the legacy of words left behind by artists, writers, composers, and dancers.
“Follow the accident, fear the fixed plan – that is the rule.”
The first half of this advice from novelist John Fowles goes to the heart of my understanding of artmaking. Even if drawings are made to prepare for a piece, the wish is always for the element of surprise to step in and shake things up. An accident turns into something not imagined a few minutes earlier.
When I used turpentine to prepare a transfer of a vintage postcard of Palermo, Sicily, it broke apart on the clay board. I left those sections to dry and made a second one and successfully placed it in another part of the piece. What to do with those remnants of the failed attempt? I started inking patterns around them and realized I was remembering our first night in Palermo. We had wandered away from the hotel, in search of a restaurant, and were lost in a maze of narrow dimly-lit streets. The designs grew to represent the jagged darkness and my discomfort.
As far as fearing the “fixed plan,” I agree with Fowles. A plan keeps me on a productive track as I create a piece of art or move from project to project. It can’t be too fixed, but certainly solid enough to stick to until I don’t need it. The trick is knowing when to pay attention to the little voice that says, “break away from the path.” As I write this, both a painting and a poem are headed for major revision. Those are general plans, not fixed. The fire and light will happen once I get inside the work.