As we lean toward the “getting done” instead of the “doing,” in this season of art-making, it is still critical to keep an eye on the quality of the encounter. There is no substitute for true engagement in the paint, the mark-making and the seeing. Any product that results from a skillful but unemotional, unconnected approach will be inferior. The quote on the wall—“The quality of the product is inextricably linked to the quality of the process” is our mantra.
Research supports this idea, indicating that being involved in an activity without extrinsic rewards (money; reputation; gold stars) leads to greater satisfaction and a better result.
Studies in creativity by Teresa Amabile at the Harvard Business School led to: “The Intrinsic Motivation Principle of Creativity. People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself, and not by external pressures or inducements”. In these studies researchers asked artists to select a total of 20 paintings –10 were commissions and 10 were from the artists’ regular practice of painting without knowing the outcome. A panel of curators, knowing nothing of the nature of the research, rated each work on both creativity and technical skill. The non-commissioned works consistently rated higher on creativity regardless of the level of technical skill. A comparable experiment by the same researchers with writers and poetry had similar results.
Likewise, the joy of doing leads to greater quality of life in general. Recent studies on the subject of happiness advise buying ‘experience’ rather than things. According to Elizabeth W. Dunn, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, it is true engagement in activities that leads to long-term happiness.
So let’s concentrate on the quality of our engagement along with our scrutiny. In this time of Valentine’s, while we analyze and critique, let’s also fall in love with the color and the charcoal. Let’s dance with the brush, (but don’t lead all of the time). Let’s foster the intrinsic value of the painting process despite the need to think about mats and frames, etc. Let’s focus and bring the marks “from that place where conviction lies.”
Formulas for this seem to be in short supply. It doesn’t come from reaching too hard or analyzing too much or trying to get it right. You have to prepare and then let go. You know it when you’re in it. Things happen on the page that are unexpected and you are aware enough to notice their value. You can’t hear the mindless chatter. Time flies. As Meryl Streep said in her recent “60 Minutes” interview: “When you’re doing it right there is a thrilling suspension of the day to day.”
As we continue to prepare for our open studio, don’t forget to “open you”. Take risks. Do what it takes to engage fully and wholeheartedly. Get something inside to stir. Keep the wonder alive. Maintain a spirit of discovery. And most importantly, avoid the urge to look at your creative endeavor as something else to check off your list.