New Rules Every Monday #1 – October 7, 2019
As we enter the second week of Inktober, I’m beginning to think more about my creative process, and specifically how to make art when I feel uninspired or otherwise in a slump. I’ve been talking recently to friends of mine who are also artists or artistically inclined, but working in fields that don’t require, or leave time at the end of the day for, creative expression.
While I’m a firm believer that if you love something you’ll make time for it, I also realize that even if you make time for art, if you’re already drained at the end of the day, it can feel impossible to come up with new ideas or get to work on old ones. Ultimately my way around this has been to set time aside and plan what I’m going to work on and when, but I’ve also been looking for inspiration on the creative process from other creative people.
Recently, I reached out to John August Swanson to talk a little bit about the artistic process and one of his former teachers, Sister Corita Kent. For Context, I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and attended Immaculate Heart High School. IHHS has a rich and interesting history, but suffice it to say that after Vatican II, the “rebel nuns” of the school had conflicting ideas about the role of women and how much autonomy they should have over their own decisions. After public battles with the Cardinal over their conflicting views, the more liberal nuns would end up breaking with the Church and reforming as a lay sisterhood.
In addition to this feminist and ground-breaking history of the school is the legacy of Corita Kent. Corita earned her degree at IHC, then went on to teach art there for 30 years and ultimately lead its art department. She was integral in the pop art movement and worked alongside Charles and Ray Eames, Buckminster Fuller, and John Cage, among others. Her serigraphs still populate the high school – popping out of unexpected corners of the library, adding a touch of color to the computer room.
John August Swanson, who attended classes with Corita at IHC and went on to develop his own unique style of serigraphy (which can be seen everywhere from The Smithsonian to the Vatican), shared a wealth of knowledge and advice with me when I reached out. Other than the tried and true “just keep working, every day” mantra, my favorite piece of advice he sent me was in the form of Corita’s list of ten rules for students and teachers.
This list was my phone background for at least a week, and was at least partly responsible for me getting my act together and creating this website. Every time I’m in a slump, or feeling that art is not the place for me, I look at this list and meditate for a little bit. What I love about it is its tonal combination of hard work and forgiving optimism. The rules at once inspire the grind, while also lettings artists relax and be less critical of themselves.
Each rule has helped me through different pieces and different processes. Rule 8 in particular opened my eyes to the idea that you cannot create and be critical of a piece at the same time, and that sometimes you just have to let yourself make art while turning off your critical self-doubt, and let the work flow.
The list, and particularly its last line “There should be new rules next week.” has inspired me to create my own set of rules at the beginning of each week, influenced by whatever I’m working on at the time.
So here’s to the beginning of New Rules Every Monday:
1. Set aside an hour every day, unplugged, to let the mind wander to new projects.
2. Be observant of everything and everyone around you – take in the colors, shapes, and sounds of your surroundings and let them inform the decisions you make – you never know what will act as inspiration for a piece.
3. Iterate – if you are having trouble coming up with new ideas, see what worked before and see how far you can push it.
4. Collaborate – don’t be afraid to show others your work and ask for feedback; art is viewed through many lenses, not just your own. You are not the only viewer of your work, so see what others can contribute.
5. Give yourself space and time. Runners don’t run marathons every day. The brain is a creative muscle and it, too, needs to relax from time to time.
6. Record your dreams. Your dreams are the product of your subconscious, blending in everything it has absorbed during the day. Collect the ideas as they float to the surface – they might make connections that your logical brain may not make while awake.
7. Go outside.
8. Pay attention to color. All art is made of line and color. Try experimenting this week with the same piece but in different moods and see where it gets you.
9. Learn how to draw something you’re really bad at drawing until you’re really good at it.
10. Don’t toss work that didn’t work out the way you thought it would. Keep pushing it until you’re left with something you’re proud of and happy with.
There you have it, tune in next week for new rules.