July 26, 2017

Think Small: Creativity & Experimentation

Two recent conversations converged unexpectedly. One was with an artist friend who asked about my process with the yonis. The other was an online conversation about guilt and shame. Yes, they really are connected in my studio practice. The connection revolves around "small."
I hatched the yoni project (second half of this post) for a couple of reasons; to facilitate a regular studio practice - a commitment to making art - and to gift myself an arena to experiment with a new medium as an artist. Sure, I've worked with textiles before now. But not as the sole medium of expression for my art. I'm switching from thinking and planning a project like a photographer - which involved illustrating a concept with captured images, either observed or staged - to creating imagery from scratch with textiles to explore a concept. Perhaps a subtle difference, but it necessitates establishing new modes of thinking; like blazing a trail through the wilderness, the path becomes easier to follow the more it is used. With textiles, instead of photography, there's more to consider than the image itself. It's how to render each piece; fabric choices, thread choices, stitch choices all add up to different textures and connote different feelings.
For now, I've limited my range of materials and colors (I often limited my color palette in photos, too). This is both to create a collection that holds together visually as a single, cohesive project and to purposefully limit my choices. Rather than stifle experimentation, these limits allow me free range. I don't have unlimited choices to cripple my decision making through overwhelm. Think of it as standing in the cereal (or any other) aisle at grocery store and having absolutely no idea which carton to choose because there are hundreds and hundreds of them. Too many choices can be paralyzing. Whereas, if there's only 5 types of cereal, a choice is easily made, without all the hemming, hawing, second-guessing, and fear of making the wrong choice. I stand by this: Fewer choices allows for more freedom than limitless choices. Of course I'm not suggesting that limiting or removing the power of choice from others is legitimate or beneficial. Rather, by limiting my own choices I grant myself the time and head space freed up from making decisions to be more creative and experimental within my self-imposed limitations. 

The yonis force me to think in new ways with my art. I often have no preconceived idea of what to make when I sit down to work, other than a yoni of some sort. This is also completely new to me; working to let the work out rather than having an end goal to work towards. I like it. Working this way has led to some yonis that I think are pretty darn cool as well as others that I think are duds.The duds, however, aren't a big deal. I am not stopped in my tracks from making a potential dud precisely because I am working small.
As a photographer, I worked on a larger scale, usually with significant investment of time and money for materials; pieces that required a lot of space to spread out while in process for days, weeks, months. Now, without the studio space, without the time, without the budget, I am adjusting to working small. This is where the guilt and shame come in. Or, rather, the lack of guilt and shame. Working small out of necessity, I have freed myself from the fear and guilt of screwing up, of wasting expensive materials. This is the kind of fear and guilt that prevents experimentation, stymies risk taking, and cripples creativity.

The materials I use for the yonis are from my stash (sunk cost), found objects (free), and newly purchased (relatively inexpensive). Because each yoni requires only a minute fraction of the newly purchased felt, each yoni is not precious as they would be to me if they each required yards of fabric (expensive) and weeks or months of time to finish. By working small I have freed myself from self-induced pressure to make something wonderful or perfect. I do not feel scarcity. If I go out on a limb and the piece sucks, so what? I don't perceive it as having cost me anything. In fact, each and every yoni - especially the duds - teaches me something. Lessons that I would have a hard time seeing if each yoni was large and I was caught up in berating myself for wasting too much time and materials.

The concept of "small" resonates on so many levels for me. I'm not satisfied with what I wrote above. It's circling the point without getting to it exactly. I will be writing more about small as I process what it means to me personally and in my art practice. For now, the point I am trying to make is that working small grants freedom to experiment and encourages creativity to flourish within a limited range of choices.

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