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Finding My Voice :  My Journey Toward Originality
By: Marion Barnett

How do you make original work?  Thatís a question that has plagued all of us at some time or another, and not just at the beginning of our artistic lives, either.  There are moments where every one of us, no matter how talented or experienced, wonders just where the next idea is going to come fromÖartists, writers, anyone creative occasionally gets stuck.

I can remember being sixteen, then eighteen, then twenty five, and wondering where people got their ideas from.  I knew how to write, I thought, I just didnít know what to write about.  It has taken me to the grand old age of forty, to begin to find my own voice.  I think that creativity is a journey that has no ending, and no beginning, but it thrives under certain conditions.  These are the conditions that work for me; your reality will inevitably be different.

Interestingly enough, that is the first of the conditions.  I recognise that my reality is different to yours, and that therefore, my art will be.  Willa Cather, the great American novelist, wrote that there are only three stories in the world, and they go on repeating themselves.  Itís true, although we could debate which three they are.  Consider all the novels you have read, the pictures you have looked at over the years.  Compare, for a moment, a landscape by Van Gogh, the master of emotional expression, with one by Cezanne, who was fascinated by the underlying structure of nature.  Their theme is the same, the depiction of a landscape, and yet each artistís treatment of that theme is radically different. 

The second of my conditions is to give myself time to develop my unique vision.  I was forced to do that when illness brought my business career to a sudden and total halt.  I needed time to heal; it was only later that I realised that it was also time to do all sorts of other things.  Whatever kind of art or literature you create, you need time to look, to observe, to listen, to reflect and, finally, to make whatever it is.   I find that looking at art that other people have created, taking regular walks, to look at the magnificence of nature, and reading things that interest me, all feed the ideas mill. I donít, however, use other peopleís images or styles as the basis for my work .  Whilst I donít want to invent the wheel, I do want to make art about things that I know and understand, things that I have experienced.  If I didnít take the photo, I donít use it as the basis of a piece of work, though I might be influenced by, say, the colours in it.

That brings me to the third of my conditions.  I give myself permission to make a lot of different things in a lot of different ways.  It may not be fashionable to have a broad based approach, but it works for me.  I write, I dye, I paint, I make quilts and embroideries, and I make music.  Each one of these activities feeds the next.  When Iím stuck with one, I can work in another.  It keeps my levels of creative excitement high.  And I allow myself  to take risks with my work, trying new techniques regularly, incorporating them into my style if they work for me, leaving them aside if they donít.  I find, though, that everything I learn, I use somehow.  Eventually.

Fourthly, I donít accept my limitations.  Not my perceived ones, anyway.  I perceived that I couldnít draw.  Experience, from school, told me that.  Life experience, too.  Until I made the effort, and went to a drawing class.  There I discovered that drawing takes practice, but it is achievableÖand all that it took was support from a good teacher, and a change in my beliefs about myself and my abilities.

Finally, I spring cleaned my soul.  And my house, come to that. My head was full of emotional clutter, unresolved conflicts and negative thoughts.  You canít see whatís around you, if your time and energy are taken up with fighting an inner war.  I got help, just as with the drawing, and diminished the demons to a point where I can now work with them in my art, rather than having them standing between it and me.  Same with my houseÖout with the books and clutter that I didnít want and need.  I now have room to work comfortably, and I can find what I need when I need it.

All this sounds so easy.  Actually, it is.  The secret isÖthere  is  no secret.  Find the path, and follow itÖwork out what your own conditions for creativity  are, and adapt your way of life to meet them as much as is practicable.  Have a pleasant journeyÖ

© Marion Barnett 2001


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