A Friday Manifesto on the Creative Process (or Some Notes Tending toward that End)


I’m thinking a lot about art these days, assembling some thoughts on the creative process.  So today, in honor of a full-of-creativity weekend-to-come, I’m sharing some notes I’ve made along the way. 

Here’s my “Friday Manifesto on the Creative Process.”

Today’s wanna-be tenet on art is this:

The creative process is the magic of transforming mere potential into the fact of the “actual”—and art is the act of making “if only” into the definity that is “indeed”—the deed of doing it.

However, the creative process often involves more sweat and effort than we bargain for up front.  Joseph Campbell tells us to “follow [our] bliss,” but more often than not that heap of happiness is one illusive devil, who plays a game of hide-and-seek with artists—offering a smoke-and-mirrors, difficult-to-grasp promise of meaning and beauty that would seem more fiction than fact.

For me the creative promise begins with a glimpse of potential—a sneak peak at what could be “if only . . . .”  But too often the process of actualizing “if only” is more agony than art—more dream than reality.

Inevitably, for me, the process gets going with a glimpse—one that takes my breath away—but only for a fraction of second—gone as soon as I see it—almost before I see it.  Sometimes I see it from behind just as it turns away—illusion—dream—a whisp of I don’t know what—departing—leaving—gone.  Sometimes I see it obliquely—out of the corner of my eye—almost, nearly, never quite.

For me the creative process involves chasing that image, that illusion—that departing, nearly, almost gone.  The creative process means making that image real, actualizing it, so it stands still long enough for me to touch it, feel it, know it in a tangible and transformative way.

But when it’s potential trash that offers you that glimpse—the process of making that peak less seek and more found, less hide and more mine—is all the more difficult and at times so close to pain it seems counter-intuitive to continue.

But pain or not, today I thought I’d give you a sneak peak at this process as it relates to the trashed table I’m currently trying to transform, one I found along the side of the street on Sunday.  It’s far from finished.  I’m still chasing the dream.

(And to prove the illusive can, indeed, become real, I’ll also include at the end photos of another piece of junk furniture I transformed in Haiti.)

So, open your eyes to the potential.  Sneak a peak with me at just how far I haven’t gotten.  Hope you enjoy these images.

my Maltese Lucy insists on "helping"

Though this piece is far from finished, this process can end in actual art—the deed of transformation does become “indeed,” indeed.  And to help you believe that, I’m adding below a few photos of a piece I completed in Haiti—one that began just-as-much junk and ended so much more than that.  (Some long-time readers of my blog may have seen these images before, but they bear repeating here.  So take another look—)

The bar is nearly 9 and a half feet long and lives on an upstairs patio at Sara’s office in Port-au-Prince.

It was white, ugly, an eye-sore, really. But Sara wanted to save it. She thought it, like Haiti itself, should be given a second chance at life, that the bar could be used  for receptions and to serve meals on special occasions.

The bar incorporates the logo of the NGO Sara worked for  in strategic places, as well as decoupaged-maps of Port-au-Prince and each location in Haiti the organization works.

I also included stories from the local newspaper, highlighting big events in the news during the months after the earthquake.

I included text from the organization’s 6-month, post-earthquake report, as well as the names of almost all the people who had worked on the NGO’s reconstruction effort—folks from more than a dozen countries around the world.

The front of the bar repeats the organization’s logo above each flower petal:

As well as the names of staff in black and white circles:

The top of the bar includes the maps and newspaper text:

Completing this piece about Haiti reminded me that, indeed, beauty can come from unexpected places, even out of earthquake’s ruin.

But the bottom line is this—

I love the creative process and I love the “indeed” that it implies.  I love the word itself—adore not only the feel of it in my mouth—but also the definity it implies.

But more than anything I love what the word implies about the creative process, because, for me, the act of creating—the tenacity of making—is more often than not a painful one—a process of making “if only” into “indeed”—a definity, an actuality, an event—one, not only worth waiting for, but also worth working toward.

May all your artistic “if only”s become “indeed”s—indeed!

And do something creative this weekend—take a risk—make a dream come true!

34 thoughts on “A Friday Manifesto on the Creative Process (or Some Notes Tending toward that End)

  1. Kathy, it takes a pretty special mind to see a broken down table in a garbage heap and envision something artistic and beautiful. I plan to tackle The Great Wall of Ribbon this weekend (artistic skills not required)!

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  2. Wow! What amazing pieces, thanks so much for sharing them and the process photos–super important. Often we just get to see the finished product and not how it came to be. In her book, The Body In Pain, Elaine Scarrey says that “the total act of creating contains an inherent movement towards self-amplifying generosity.” I love the connection of making with generosity, I think it really rings true.

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    • How fascinating! That sounds like a book I’d really enjoy. I had never thought about it being a form of generosity. But it sure pleases me you enjoyed my table and bar. The piece in Haiti was amazingly fun and meaningful to create. And the table here has been great fun so far. I love the creative process.

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  3. Of course your work is gorgeous beyond words. I love how the newspaper articles and names become part of the geometry.

    What strikes me, though, is the pain in your process. My experience is so different. I may start out with a vision, but the act of manifesting that vision always changes it. My pieces *never* turn out the way I first see them in my mind, and I expect that. Whenever a piece takes a left turn, I’m delighted and awed by where the art wants to go.

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    • Interesting, Sandy! I think part of my struggle is that I rarely have a clear vision at the beginning. It’s like I’m constantly having to defrost my window to see things clearly. However, the writing process is generally more painful than the process of creating visual art. I don’t know why.

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  4. Couldn’t agree more about the artistic process being a painful one, one that requires a huge amount of tenacity and determinedness….not to mention lots of focus and concentration…something that requires effort in an age of multiple distractions!
    The table is turning out beautifully, the colors are so vibrant so far. Loved seeing the pictures and watching the work evolve 🙂
    As for the bar in Haiti, I loved how you made it into a testimony of your time there, incorporating so many elements, so historical. An interesting objet d’art indeed!! And functional to boot!
    Thank you for sharing Kathy!

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    • Thanks, my friend! I’m so happy you’ve enjoyed watching the process so far! The round table, I think, will be fun in the end. But you are right. Creativity does require a huge amount of tenacity. I wonder how the creative process is for you when you write. And I’d love to know how it works for your sister, as well! Hope you’re having a great weekend!

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      • Writing…and painting! I should share some of my art some day 🙂 Like the series of watercolors of butterflies I did while spending a month in the Maldives. I think you might get a kick out of those!

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      • Wow, Munira–I didn’t know you painted. I would LOVE to see your watercolor butterflies. I know I’d get a kick out of them. Will you do a post about them. You can blame my begging, if you like! Ha, ha!

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  5. Pingback: Travels with Dogs, When Blogging Buddies Meet, Driving Toward Irene, and Happy Feet « Woman Wielding Words

  6. Wow! Kathy, you are so very talented! Right now I am sitting next to a table that is very similar to the one you just found, and I’m wishing you could work your magic on it for me!

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  7. Pingback: A Friday Manifesto on the Creative Process (or Some Notes Tending toward that End) (via reinventing the event horizon) | Post A Day 2011 | Wordpress Challenge

  8. There is no way I can put in to words the beauty you created from “what if”.

    I loved the table before you even added color! Then the color…. I do hope you will post the follow up pictures. Thanks for sticking with me until I could find this and read it. It was so very worth the wait.

    “WOW” because I can’t formulate anything more intelligent.

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