Because of the work I do, interviewing and writing about artists, people usually assume it’s all about the art: that I got into this work because I want to See Art. And while that’s true—I do love seeing art—that’s not it. Or they assume I love artists and am a sort of superannuated FanGirl, wanting to hang around the Rock Stars of the Mixed Media Art World. And while there are a lot of really nice and amazingly talented artists who are way fun to talk to, that’s not it, either.
What is it, then, that drew me to this, that keeps me asking nosy questions of as many creative people as I can find? It’s not a job for me. What it is is a complete fascination with the most elusive of all things: the creative spark. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been just the tiniest bit obsessed with Making Stuff, and it’s not the Stuff that was important (back then it was mostly stuff made out of used toilet paper rolls, pipe cleaners, and Play Doh); it was the Making that entranced me. I wanted to take a bunch of nothing—discards, blank paper, bits and pieces of stuff—and make something cool (that I didn’t have the skills or the tools was really frustrating). That act of making, no matter the result, was beyond fascinating. My parents both made stuff—stuff out of fabric and wood and rocks and cardboard and discarded egg cartons (my dad made a totally cool lamp from a Styrofoam egg carton that partially melted when he spray painted it, and perhaps you can imagine just how cool this was to have hanging in my room in 1968)—and I would watch them and wonder how they knew what to do and then what to do next and what colors to use and when it was time to stop. How did they know this when they had no pattern and no plans? How did they know it would be something cool?
When I started interviewing artists and getting to ask them the nosiest of questions about what they do, I was thrilled because now I had a chance to find out about that moment, that spark of inspiration when an idea arrives, that following burst when it seems, suddenly, that this thing—whatever it is: a sculpture, a necklace, a song, a story, a castle in the desert—might just be possible.
If I were magic, I’d be able to be in the middle of that spark, to be in the brain of the artist at the moment the connections formed and the inspiration hit and the ideas began zinging around like pinballs. Or maybe I’d discover that that’s not how it happens at all: maybe it’s a calm flow, like a stream, where tributaries join with each other to make a torrent of ideas.
Since being in someone else’s brain is kind of creepy, though (to them, anyway), the next best thing would be to be invisible in the studio at the very beginning of a project and to see what happens for different people. Is there a lot of staring blankly at the ceiling? Or maybe it’s about pulling every single box of ephemera off the shelves and dumping it on the floor? Are there false starts, or is this artist one who sees an image, complete and detailed, and follows that image through to making it concrete?
It’s endlessly fascinating, how creativity works, and the more I find out about people’s various creative processes, the more I want to know. What is it like for you? We’d love to hear!
You might also enjoy Creative Thursday: Everyday Inspiration for Growing Your Creative Practice by Marisa Anne.
MORE RESOURCES FOR MIXED MEDIA ARTISTS