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Thursday 14 January 2016

Musing on the nature of art and fostering creativity

It's often said that there are no original ideas left to discover, and it does seem there's a lot of truth in this. I think it's healthy, as an artist, to take in as much work by other creatives as one can, as this provides endless inspiration for one's own work. I often think my real creative strength is actually in modifying existing ideas to better suit my own aesthetic - hence my enthusiastic embrace of altered art! 

There are many reasons why I prefer to assemble existing objects than start from scratch, and in many ways I feel that constraints (in this case, of using the existing materials available rather than a blank canvas) seem to foster creativity and spur on the imagination. If you doubt this, imagine sitting down before a piece of blank paper and pencil and being told to "draw anything you like." For many of us, confronted with infinite possibilities, the mind responds by going as blank as the paper! Instead, what if there is a simple, irregular shape drawn on the paper and you are asked to turn it into a picture? Suddenly, the drawing becomes a game, and rather than enter into the activity with the heavy burden of "creating art", you can have a playful and relaxed experiment, a frame of mind that of course fosters the open mind which is useful for true creativity to take place. 

This last is an exercise I have regularly used when working with children, and "The Shape Game" (as it is dubbed by the excellent Anthony Browne has proven hugely popular and endlessly entertaining with every group. We also sometimes play a similar game with real objects: I fill a cloth bag with a selection of interestingly shaped items (not immediately identifiable if possible, bits of flat pack hardware or dismantled pieces from plastic items work well) and get children to choose one by feel and then imagine what it might be. Others will join in and the suggestions will become more and more outlandish. For example, a rubber wedge for a door might be a skate ramp for pixies, a spaceship landing pad, a spike on a child-safe security wall. 

When I tell people I'm an artist, I often get the response "What do you paint?" Occasionally they might mention drawing or sculpture. Assemblage arguably requires less technical skill than the more classic art forms, so one can see how it might be viewed as a "poor relation". But it could also be argued that techniques like collage and assemblage require more creativity than drawing (or painting, or sculpting) from life. Which begs the question, do we respect artists for their technical skills or their creativity? I'll let you debate that thought amongst yourselves whilst I carry on making. 

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