What is Art, Master?


    gilgunI remember that you said something to me about my “progress in art” and I said there is no progress. “I don’t have that narrative. There is no structure called ‘progress.'”

    There is no “good, better, best” as I used to tell my creative writing students. Each time I make a mask I start fresh. It’s all new to me or it’s stale and if it’s stale I quit for the day and go home. There have to be surprises in what I’m doing in whatever medium I’m working in. It isn’t only clay. It’s also behind my digital collages, my encaustic work, my poetry, whatever. This is very Postmodern: no narrative of progress. “You are not being given a grade for this.”

    Remember that when I learned something I cried out to the art professor, “Help! I just learned something. What do I do now?” Inevitably the artist learns. But learning inhibits. Emptiness and the absence of learning is what the artist is striving for. Empty mind: begin with that.

    Remember that my earliest clay masks are my best because “I didn’t know anything then.” “Knowing how to do it” only gets in your way.

    I use dice to introduce “chance” into the creative experience. Using found objects picked up in parking lots and around dumpsters is also introducing elements of chance. This comes from the composer John Cage. He learned about the importance of chance from his teacher Suzuki who taught him Zen at Columbia University.

    Play and chance are central to creativity. Therefore they are essential. “It’s play or it’s nothing at all,” as I used to tell my writing students.

    It also allows the student to “find out what’s happening inside yourself.” You have to let “getting inside” matter to you. But you can’t force it. It happens and it surprises you and you say, “I didn’t know I could do this!” And wellness comes out of that. You are restored to inner balance and harmony and peace. (“All I want is peace of mind.”) This is where Zen comes in. Surprise yourself into Zen by finding out what’s happening to you inside yourself. Creativity will follow. Your energies will be released. Use those energies to create art.

    “What is art, Master?”
    “Art is anything you decide to call art.” – Marcel Duchamp

    Remember what happened when the teacher at the Kansas City Art Institute took the tool I’d discovered on my own to use with oil paint and said, “At this school we use a brush.” Remember that I put the brush on the table and drove back to St. Joe and never returned to that school. Remember that Art Professor Jim Estes was the best teacher I ever had because he left me totally alone to create on my own stuff, finding my own way. He was there if I had a question of him. He would answer it. But otherwise it was up to me.

    Start from zero. “Empty mind” is where to begin. No preconceptions. No hang-ups. Clear those troublesome thoughts out – like cleaning your attic or garage – and make it new. Again, there is no good, better, best. There is only the clay, empty mind, chance and play. Have fun with it. Let your inner child take over. She knows what she’s doing. Follow her lead.



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