The agenda of this post is to document the ‘How do those Mad Artists Think? Lessons in creative thinking from the world of Art and Design’ workshop, point out the interactive techniques I used, and give the reader an idea of what to expect, should they participate in the next one.
I write this after reading the feedback forms, and I’m happy to report that there are at least ten more Mad Artists in the world who are keen on experimenting with their talents.
I did learn a few lessons though, as regards the length of the workshop (I ought to contract it), and that 10 am on a Sunday morning is a lousy time to start! A sincere thank you to all those who came. The next time it will probably be a half-day session, from 3.30 pm to 8.30 pm, and end with an Asterix comic style feast for dinner!
My Mission/Workshop manifesto
The ‘How do Mad Artists think?’ workshop provides the participants with tools and strategies to:
1. Extract maximum value from any artwork they encounter
2. Place their own creative products in the context of the larger world of Art
3. Be articulate about the reasons for their intuitive creative output
The Technique used in the Workshop
One of the main things I wanted to do through this workshop was make people realize that Art is not as esoteric as it’s made out to be. Behind the often tumid prose that surrounds any discussion on Art, is a fundamental artistic process, which I wanted to reveal.
Most of the ‘big words’ that surround Art, all fall into this artistic process in logical places, in an almost formulaic manner.
Often I meet incredibly gifted writers, illustrators and musicians, who practice their crafts prolifically, but in a largely stagnant manner, within a decorated box, utilizing predictable and hackneyed tropes in their renditions.
While there is no harm in this, (the important thing is that they enjoy what they do) I have also experienced that a small initiation to lateral thinking by great artists in a person’s area of interest, at living room conversations or parties, tends to inspire them with a new respect for their talents.
I employed a playful method to demonstrate the ‘logical methods’ behind the lateral thinking to the participants, so that the next time they created anything, they could experiment with their crafts, and be articulate about the nature of their experiments.
I randomly placed the ‘big words’ on the floor of the workshop space, in the area enclosed by the circle of chairs.
As people walked in and sat down, the fluorescent chits on the Terrazo got their attention and a process of thinking about the words started from the very outset.
After the introductions, I got people talking about the words pasted on the floor by posing questions like, “What’s the difference between Art and Craft?” or “How important is Skill or Technique in Art?” (the italicized words were pasted on the floor).
I wanted people to arrive at the differences between the meanings of the words, or the relationships between them, through a process of discussion.
For example Craft is different from Art because there is often Use for it. Culture, Tradition, Spirituality and Local Material play an important role, and it relies heavily on learnt Technique.
At the end of the rich discussion, I rearranged the random words, with the participants help, to form a logical order that described the artistic process.
This made for a lot of interaction and fun (“…put that word here, next to Design, no, no I think it should go before plasticity!”) , and furthered the participants understanding of the words and concepts.
An example of one such logical arrangement is as follows:
Art is a dialogue between Intelligence and Intuition and manifests in a Form that lies in a continuum from Realism to Abstraction. (refer to picture below)
The Arc from Realism to Abstraction
As the words on the (now logically ordered) post its were being assimilated, I took the participants through a really quick presentation on the arc from Realism to Abstraction (encompassing 500 years in seven slides!), from the Renaissance to Cubism.
Along the way I stressed on the tenacious link between the technological and intellectual advancements of the day and the style, subject matter and concepts in the Art, and urged them to think about what themes, they surmised, Contemporary Art might show.
The following is the slideshow I took them through:
The slideshow above served the purpose of helping the participants understand the conceptual tools used by Artists in the past to think about the forms and methods they employed.
It was absolutely crucial in fact, for the next section, which was:
A crash course on modern Art movements from Cubism onwards, including examples from Literature, Music, Performance Art etc.
This section encompassed the Futurists, the Abstract Expressionists and the Pop Artists amongst others, and led up to where contemporary Art is today.
Art went a little crazy with Rothko’s painting, Damien Hirst’s antics, Gavin Turk’s pranks and Marina Abramovic’s performances, but the foundation that was laid by the post it discussions right at the beginning, allowed people, who would otherwise have scoffed at the even red canvases and sharks in formaldehyde, to take it all in voraciously.
Russolo, the futurist composer’s music concerts were cited as an example of how music interpreted the movements of the day, as was Pink Floyd’s homage to him (with their helicopter and cash register sounds).
A parallel was drawn between the battle against ephemerality manifested in the the ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ style of Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson and Truman Capote’s Gonzo journalism and the Art of Blogging and writing in the New Media Age.
I shared my own poem, A Bystander in Love, in which I try and link the flow of the narrative and the poetic rhythm to the subjects of the poem (i.e love and the oscillating swing).
To demonstrate the kind of open minded conversations that were taking place, here’s a snippet from the workshop in which I’m responding to a participant who spoke of failing a junior Art class because her teacher said she couldn’t draw.
Rothko, the abstract expressionist (though he didn’t like the label) famously said that colour, not line, ought to be the starting point of painting. He disputed the need to depict objects from nature and treated the canvas as a field of vision without a focal point.
In this manner, with a lateral concept, he bravely re-imagined the direction painting could take.
Post lunch activity – The fun part – Creating an ‘Artistic Work’
Step1 – Thinking of an issue that has affected you
Ultimately, Art is commentary. It is a creative expression of a passionate thought. I asked the participants the following question:
‘What has affected you deeply in the recent past?’
The participant was further encouraged, through discussion with the group, to think deeply about why they felt strongly about the issue.
The issues that were brought up ranged from the corruption in our country, to the anomalous nature of monogamy, to the impossibility of ‘ever knowing anything’ despite the glut of information on the internet, to, in the case of a girl with a tooth-ache, the ‘futility’ of seeing a dentist (“We ought to fix our hearts first! Go see a cardiac surgeon” she trembled as she spoke!).
Step 2 – Manifesting your feelings in an ‘Artistic Work’
The ‘Artistic Work’ could be completely conceptual, in which case the participant simply had to describe it through language, or it could be a piece of poetry, cellphone photography, performance, or even a rough sketch.
The focus was not on the final product, but on the thinking process behind it.
Abhi (name changed) the internet agnostic, imagined a slate, the oldest metaphor of human knowledge and learning, (but also a metaphor relevant to our times due to the dynamism of its surface) with a crack running through it, so that anything that anyone wrote on it would be incomplete. He imagined a Performance Art piece, Marina Abramovic style,in which people wrote words on the slate, erased them and walked on, giving way to the next person to do the same.
Deep (name changed) troubled by the concept monogamy, wrote the following free-form Haiku titled ‘Unnatural’.
In our world
We would call bees cheats
And flowers whores
The technique of assonance in the ‘bees cheats’ and ‘flowers whores’ was noted as a device used to draw attention to the irony and the metaphors. Deep, an advertising copywriter, used the words side-by-side intuitively, a testament to her brilliant grasp of her craft, but true to the agenda of the workshop, an articulation of the literary device was important.
Naina (name changed) took a photo of dead leaves and equated it with the politics in our country at the moment. In her own words “Even a bad decision is going to pay off.” Among other things, leaves, and their function as agents of photosynthesis, and as humus, inspired her analogy.
The importance of ‘leaving the door open’ for interpretation was stressed in the discussions that followed the presentation of each artistic work.
Art after all is what one makes of it, as much as what the Artist wanted to convey.
A few words about spreading the word
There were three basic platforms I relied on for spreading the word about the workshop. A Facebook event was the center of it all, but my blog and the e-mailers I sent through (the absolutely amazing!) Mail Chimp platform, had a big part to play.
Here’s the basic digital strategy I used:
Mail Chimp allowed me to track individual opens, and send reminders (sometimes in the form of a phone call) in case a crucial person had not opened the e-mailer I had sent him/her. A lot of the time this was because Gmail has a separate ‘promotions’ tab, and not everyone checks the mails listed there often.
The discussions were vivid and rich and will certainly help me in my own artistic growth.
But most importantly, like I said in the introduction, a lot of the people agreed that they were Mad Artists too (refer to image below). My agenda of inspiring the confidence to experiment, and of helping the participants to be more articulate about how they used their craft, was largely successful and I am deeply thankful for it.