Picture Today

June 2, 2018

Coyotes By The PoolCoyotes By The Pool, Mixed media on canvas, 32 x 26 inches.

Paintings and Children

More Thoughts on the Creative Process

It is not uncommon for artists to think of their artistic creations as children they have birthed, raised and sent out into the world. Or wait, maybe it is uncommon. At any rate, it is the way I tend to think of them. Of course my paintings and my children, and my relationships with each are vastly different, but the small similarities are what interest me today.

Lately I have begun asking new owners of my paintings to send me photos of the work in its new setting, in its new home. After imagining and wrestling a work into existence (see yesterday’s post about the roll of time and careful listening in art making), it is a great joy to have a connection to a piece’s new life “out in the big world”.

The connection that I have to a painting after creating and living with it for some time, the reluctance I sometimes feel in letting it go, and the bittersweet realization that this is what I created it for in the first place, have got me thinking again about picture making and child raising.

Child psychologist Alison Gopnik has a book out entitled,

The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children

As the title suggests, Gopnik posits that parents fall into either of two rolls in raising their children. Carpenters set out to build a finished project and set about building responsible, caring successful adults. Gardeners instead focus on providing safe nurturing healthy environments for children to grow up into who they will become.

In an interview with NPR Gopnik states, “”I think the science suggests that being a caregiver for human beings is…much more about providing a protected space in which unexpected things can happen than it is like shaping a child into a particular kind of desirable adult.”

The author’s ideas on “parenting” as a comparatively recent invention and how a more natural approach to child rearing could have tremendous benefits for our children and for our society are interesting and refreshing. It is how these ideas relate to creating art that interests me.

“Art, fully realized, is too big for a maker’s preconception of it. We start the process with only dim shadows and blurred dreams of the desired end.”

The parallels between the carpenter/gardener approach to child rearing and picture making are obvious. The world in which I most often exhibit my art is one in which carpenters reign. Art Shows and Festivals especially, (in spite of the name) are focused on craftsmanship and well made objects as opposed to art.* Carpenters set out to make a finished product. They use their considerable skills to parent their creations into a preconceived result, a commodity. Gardener artists provide the environment of openness and reciprocity and use their skills to help a creation emerge. Art, fully realized, is too big for a maker’s preconception of it. We start the process with only dim shadows and blurred dreams of the desired end.

It’s a personal and arduous process, fraught with failure and doubt. But when there is some small success, some small but significant addition to the expanding universe of what it means to be human, well, then it’s hard to let go.

*see my post “What is Art?

Alison Gropnik’s book is published by Picador and is available in, or can be ordered by, fine independent bookstores everywhere.

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