Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Left-Brain Loop: Meaning

This happens to me occasionally; I get tangled up in what things mean. Specifically, I get tangled up in what the artwork I'm making means, and instead of listening to the materials, I start listening to that other side of my brain--the part of me that wants to plan and strategize and analyze and understand everything before I even start. This is a pretty useful thing in the business world, and even in hybrid business-creative endeavors like web site development. But in pure artmaking, it brings along a host of issues. Paralysis by analysis is a very real thing, and a lot of work goes unmade while the maker ponders whether it's "right" or "fits" or "supports the thesis."

I'm trying to work my way out of this by remembering that everything means something to someone. Additionally, I know full well that anything I make has meaning for me, whether I see that meaning immediately or not. I know that I just need to make my work, and then let it tell me what it's saying. But right now I'm in a headspace that wants certainty.

Perhaps this is a natural reaction; I'm introducing a lot of uncertainty into my artistic mix with my choice of materials these days. If you're one of the 2.3 regular readers of this blog, you'll know that I'm working with encaustic, which is still quite new to me. I've recently introduced oil paint to that mix--another substance I've literally never worked with before. Why I've become enamored of hand-smearing oil paint onto wood panels and painting them over with wax I don't really know; I can't fathom why using my hands to work the colors is so much more satisfactory than using a brush, which I am resolutely refusing to do because it feels wrong. I also seem to have become enamored of working with multiples--things seem to want to come out of me in threes. This is puzzling to me as well, as I've also never felt compelled to work in multiples before.

It's probably no surprise to people who know me that my immediate response to all this confusion is to try to analyze my way out of it. What am I saying to myself? What am I trying to achieve? What in these things is appealing to me, and what might that suggest? Where is this going? Where should it go?

I know that part of the reason I get trapped into this left-brain loop has a lot to do with the kind of artist I am. I don't want to be a person who makes something and puts it out into the world with "I'm pretty" as its only function. I think more highly of art than that, and my concern is if I don't know what it means... does it mean anything other than "I'm pretty"?

Although I understand that sometimes even that has a deeper meaning. There was a fair amount of pictoral or neoclassical  "I'm pretty" artwork made in Europe in the aftermath of World War I. Europe emerged from that conflict "exhausted, horrified, and forcibly modernised," and thoroughly soured on images that were cold, unflinchingly technical, and heavily deconstructed. The Futurist movement, so intense and explosive prior to the war, lost its momentum (and nearly all of its founding artists) as a result of the fighting. Surely the prevalence of "I'm pretty" artwork created the breathing space artists and the art-viewing public needed to be open to what followed, and in that sense it had a meaning that was far greater than the sum of its parts.

But I cringe when someone calls themselves an artist, yet doesn't attempt to venture beyond the surface of what they make. To me, the quest for meaning and the sheer fact of work that goes beyond personal aesthetics to a broader universal connection is what differentiates art from hobby. I don't want my work to be just pretty, I want it to be right.

My left-brain wants me to go into a discussion now about what the word "right" means, and how that can be diluted, diffused, determined, evaluated. My right brain wants me to go up to my studio and start playing with some hot wax and not worry about how it comes out. Neither brain is going to win completely, that's just who I am. But for the time being, I think I will go make a little something that follows no rules of anything, purely and only for the experience of doing it.

And I'll think about it later. :)

**Just to update my last post ... Ellen Fader is the artist I referred to, and although she doesn't have anything on public display at the moment, she does have a web site. Check her out at**


Ann Tracy said...

I totally understand... if I start thinking about the work too much, I immediately block all my creative juices. Sometimes it takes me months to figure out the meanings ;~ D

E. Marie said...

I'm with you Ann. Lots of times I'll look back at my work and think "oh, yeah, so that's what I was trying to say ..." So why do I lock up like this at times? Maybe it's just because everything is so new. Right now I'm cleaning my studio space--the ultimate in creative procrastination, lol.