Art, TEGWAR, and Sweet Songs in the Halls of Creation

“These Women in My Life”
Mixed media collage
24″ x 24,” Molly Larson Cook, 2015

“I don’t follow any system. All the laws you can lay down are only so many props to be cast aside when the hour of creation arrives.”  —Raoul Dufy

“Do what suits you…try to paint in the moment…
forget everything you have learned…”
–Jan van Oort

The words of these two painters are near and dear to my creative heart.

Dufy was a French Fauve painter who lived and worked at the end of the 19th century and through the first half of the 20th century.   In addition to being a painter, Dufy was a draftsman, printmaker, book illustrator, scenic designer, furniture designer and public planner.

van Oort is a contemporary Dutch abstract expressionist painter as well as an architect, composer,  jazz saxophone player, writer and advertising concept designer.

In other words, neither of these artists put all their creative eggs in one basket – or even two.   The word polymath comes to mind.

As I look at their short biographies, I begin to detect the great appeal both these artists have to me and why their advice which is essentially advice to break the rules resonates so strongly.

One of my favorite novels and without question my favorite movie is Bang the Drum Slowly. This is a story of baseball, rain and human understanding.  On off days or when it’s raining, the players sometimes engage in a game called TEGWAR – The Exciting Game Without Any Rules.

I’m not proposing a full monty game of TEGWAR for artists and neither were Dufy or van Oort.

But they, and so many others who came before us, know the value of learning the rules and then tossing them aside in pursuit of our own voices, our styles, our artistic ventures into new territory.  As Joseph Campbell once said (and I paraphrase), if you’re following a path, it’s somebody else’s path.

I know this from another side as well.  I’ve taught creative writing for several years and my goal is to teach the writers the basics and – yes – the “rules” of whatever genre we’re working on – poetry, fiction, nonfiction.  They sometimes ask to see samples of my own work and I show them.  But I don’t want them to write like me.  I don’t want them to write like any of the writers they read.  And I don’t want them to be slaves to the rules.  I want them to use the rules as a foundation and the writers they read, including me, as samples, but I want them to write like themselves. 

When we look at the art of those who’ve come before us, when we browse the magazines with the newest art, when we walk the galleries and museums, we get ideas and appreciate the art that interests us.  But we don’t want to paint like those artists – we want to be inspired by them to paint like ourselves!

There’s a kind of poem called a “nonce” poem in which the poet creates a one-off poetry form just for that poem.

I’m all for nonce art.  One-off paintings that will please the artist and won’t be repeated.  The artist will make the rules and the result will be the artist’s voice sweetly singing in the halls of creation.

 

 

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Robin Hood’s Barn

My dear father-in-law had a saying about occasions when it seemed that a person was taking too much time to get somewhere or had deliberately made the trip longer than necessary or just seemed to be lost on the way or was telling some convoluted and long-winded story.

“That fellow went all the way around Robin Hood’s barn to get there.”

The phrase came to me again today as I thought about my progress as an artist.  Or anybody’s progress as an artist – or a writer, dancer, actor, musician, anything that requires some creativity and imagination to find the place where one feels – I don’t know – a spiritual connection with one’s work.

That sounds pretty high-and-mighty, I know, and I’m not given to using such words easily, but let’s face it – if the spirit ain’t in it, it ain’t nuthin’.  (I didn’t steal that from anybody.  I just made it up.)

You can use your own definition of “spirit.” There are plenty to choose from or you, too, can make up one you like.  But I think anybody who’s serious about the work will get what I’m trying to say.

When it comes to creativity, spirit can be elusive.  I knew I was headed this direction when I realized after several moves that the two things I always packed first were my books and my art supplies.  Art supplies I hadn’t used in years but could not bear to leave behind.  Then I made a move and left most of my books behind, but not the art supplies.  That was the clincher for me.  I hadn’t found the spirit yet, but I knew there was joy in just being with those brushes and paints and pieces for collage.  And when it came to living in my little studio apartment where space was beyond limited, I chose art instead of books/writing.  Truth to tell, I chose art over just about everything but my bed!

Spirit watches and waits for our commitment.

I’ve been painting a lot of things over the past year and a half that I found satisfying and that other people liked, too.  I’ve sold some pieces, but I knew I was not there yet; I was out of the fledgling nest, but still flying like Bob Dylan’s rolling stone, “no direction known.”

A couple of weeks ago I ran onto a Dutch abstract painter on the web, a painter and a jazz saxophonist as well.  I watched and listened and especially paid attention to Jan van Oort’s lesson about painting tools for abstract art.  Something resonated.  Then I set my brushes aside and went to the art supply store and the hardware store where I picked up all kinds of things.  For me, the tools were the key.

Not only do I love hardware stores, but I also now love the freedom to do what spirit has been calling me to do all along:  Be brave, be bold, have fun, take risks, speak your own piece.  Listen to the music.  Color is an animal that not only wags its own tail, but also sings its own song.

I may have been around Robin Hood’s barn, but I made it home.

Here are the first results.  All 20 x 24.

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