Wednesday, December 21, 2011

running with creativity

as a kid i had no interest in art.  i played sports like most other midwestern males of my generation.  
i wasn't very good at many though.  i sat on the bench and got cut from all-star, aau, and traveling teams.  it was never a good experience.  when i was 15, i decided to run cross country to get in shape for basketball season.  then after a week of basketball practice, i quit the team to go back to running.
i was pretty terrible my first season, nearly last on the team.  but i got to compete in every race and complete every practice.  i never had to watch from the sidelines.  through the rest of high school, college and into graduate school, running became my way of life.  

i tell this story because i believe that running gave me the best creative education i could ask for.
i never took art classes at community centers or signed up for art club in high school.  i didn't have any interest.  i took pottery my senior year of high school as a blow off class with some friends and decided i enjoyed making pots enough that i continued to take it as a blow off class when i was in college.  i had my first drawing class in the summer after i graduated from college and had decided to pursue art in graduate school.  

running is good creative education.  i cannot say that for all sports.  but the mind that it takes to be a distance runner is very similar to the mind that it takes to make art.  the practices that it take to be a runner are very similar to the practices that it take to make art.  self-motivation and self-criticism.  knowing you have to work constantly and knowing you can always be better or at least different.  

there is very little difference in making 100 bowls and running mile repeats.  by the end you feel exhausted.  but you still have to do your 3-mile evening recovery run or do the next step in finishing the 100 bowls.  i think part of the reason i'm drawn to making multiples, no matter the medium, is that i believe experimenting within a framework (be it the bowl, or the print, or sculpture, or whatever) is similar to doing interval training on the track.  as one progresses through a workout of 200m repeats at 30sec each with 30sec rest in between, the mind begins to experiment with the way you distribute effort. repeat number 12 is a lot different from repeat number 1.  in the same way, each multiple is created with the previous piece there to build upon or diverge from, but still within the same framework.

china painting, 2006. 400+ porcelain and stoneware bowls arranged
multiples: temporal/timeless, with china painting in the background, 2006
multiples: tea set, with china painting in the background, 2006
multiples: tea set, 2006

running and art are closely linked in their physical/mental nature, as well.  both are physical expressions of mental efforts.  trying to think through creating something new is quite difficult and requires a lot of will power and effort, just as pushing through the pain of running requires an intense mental effort.  making art also requires the same persistence and devotion as running.  it is a way of life, meditating on a practice.  competing in high school and in college required running every day.  working in the art world requires that same type of devotion.  then you see your efforts in practice come to fruition at the competition.  setting up for a cross country meet is similar to setting up for an art fair.  you drag in at some ungodly hour and put up your booth and get ready for your competition and you do your best, competing against your previous efforts as much as you are competing against your fellow competitors.  then you tear down and drive home with the days efforts in mind.

i do not run very often any longer.  my devotion lies elsewhere these days.  however it is always good to lace up my shoes and remember what running feels like.  i love visiting the trails of shades state park in western indiana and running through a place that was a refuge for me as a runner in college.  distance running allows the mind to wander.  out for an easy run for 6+ miles takes a while and your mind gets to study clouds and trees, people walking past, buildings.  the rhythm of shoes on pavement or hard-packed dirt and fallen leaves.  you're in your own little world, just like creating.

(more photographs from the Multiples installation can be seen here)

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