The idea behind Conceptual Quickies is to provide some starting points and ideas that can be used in the context of various art projects. Today I'll try to lay out some abstract ideas that have something to do with creating art. The terms I use aren't official and only represent my personal ideas.I: FLOW
I've heard and read many different interpretations of what flow means in an artistic context. Some may describe it as an elating feeling while creating something as if everything you do just "flows" like water and basically puts itself into place as if it's supposed to be this way and no other. Others have described it as a floating state between having absolute control over something while simultaneously being challenged by it.
I personally think that flow is a product of the combination of experience, engagement, challenge and often luck, while all these things need to be in balance.1 – Experience:
Without experience there cannot be flow, because constant shifting, trying and pondering can lead to "road blocks" (or art blocks) – whenever you need to stop and think about what to do next or whenever you're simply questioning what should or could be done, your flow is broken. Experience means having an idea of where you'd like to go and having a basic idea how to get there. If you try to do something you have no clue about, poking around in the dark won't bring you into a state of flow. This doesn't mean you need to know everything in advance, which could actually prevent flow from appearing in the first place. It means being inspired and having all potential tools at hand you might need in the process of creating something. Stopping drawing to look up a reference can be part of the flow, but only if you know what you'd like to look up and if this action comes naturally in the process of drawing. If you first need to stop and think about it, your flow is most likely lost.In short: Have a vague idea of what you'd like to do, but don't plan everything out in every detail. Instead, allow spontaneous creativity and experiments to happen and allow this initial idea to organically adapt and change.2 – Engagement:
Engagement means feeling a fire or urge to create something. If you're bored out of your mind while drawing something you really don't like, you'll most likely not reach a state of flow. To the contrary, you might actually think about dozens of other things you'd prefer drawing at that moment and might even catch yourself scribbling them instead, while suddenly being in a state of flow by doing this. The prospect of having something much more fun or something more interesting waiting for you could bring about the state of flow for it. Some art teachers might suggest that you should go with it, stop the first thing you were doing and harvest this new state of flow instead.In short: Be inspired and if you feel the urge to create something, go with it. If something bothers you or doesn't seem interesting, try to rearrange it in a way that makes it interesting again. Sometimes if you take another look at what you're doing or if you interpret it completely differently, something new and exciting might surface. 3 – Luck:
Luck can simply mean being in a fitting mood or being given a topic you really like to draw at a given point in time. Luck can also mean finding the perfect references at the perfect time or just by pure experiment combining two colors that match perfectly for your picture. These are all things you cannot really influence consciously. They're experiments you cannot predict. And this is the important part. Sometimes, if things just seem to fit and if everything seems to fall into place, you might simply be in a lucky position. Think about an author writing a paragraph that just happens to open with a word he immediately gets inspired by to write the very next paragraph. And the whole next paragraph might inspire him to write the next page. There surely is experience, skill and engagement involved, but to equal measures pure experimental luck that cannot be reproduced a second time in the same way. If this hypothetical author is out of luck he might be stuck with a word he cannot find a good synonym for or maybe it's just his internet connection that prevents him from looking it up. This lack of luck can prevent flow from happening.In short: Allow experiments to happen. Don't push away new ideas, don't limit yourself to what you'd "normally" do and if something seems fitting, just take it and try it out.4 – Challenge:
Picking extremely easy things to draw or planning whatever you like to draw out in every detail might prevent you from getting into a state of flow, because you're over-emphasizing the "experience" part while virtually removing the "luck" part. If there's no place for experiments or sudden and unforeseen sparks to happe, you cannot enter a state of flow, because there's nothing giving you a sudden push each time you make the next step. Your experience can bring you to a certain point and right at this point something engaging needs to happen (for example, you realize that something works really well or maybe you get a new idea about what you're working on) to lift you up and make you move on. In contrast, if after each step you get disappointed or stuck, because what you're trying to draw do doesn't look like what you planned it to look like (or maybe you simply don't know what to do next), the "challenge" part takes the focus and undermines your experience and engagement.In short: Try to do new things, try not to over-emphasize long-established habits and accept mistakes and things that might not seem to work at first glance, because you can never know what new things you'll find after having had the courage of walking a rocky road. If you play it safe, you'll only find what you already found dozens of times before – and this will eventually lead to an art block.II: APOTHEOSIS
Apotheosis is a term I sometimes ponder over when trying to apply the concept of flow not necessarily to the artist himself but to his creation. This only makes sense in the context of "big projects", like for example a graphic novel, a movie, a book etc. that demand lots of different elements to be experimented with, pondered about and worked on.
Getting the concept for, let's say, a graphic novel rolling is a highly demanding task and it's usually a slow start. Sometimes the basic idea might be there in a few seconds, but then everything slows down, because the story and the characters need to be written and fleshed out, the art style needs to be defined and refined, the structure of the plot and the layout of the pages need to be planned etc. But sometimes there's the point at which a story, its characters and the way it's presented seem to take on a life of their own: Suddenly all the characters are fleshed out sufficiently enough that you don't need to ponder over their reactions anymore; they simply react because of how well you know them. The plot doesn't need to be planned anymore, because all threads and arcs are interconnected to such a degree, that you automatically know what needs to happen next. The layout of the pages and their rhythm is defined to such a level that you intuitively know which panels need to be where and how they need to be connected. This is the point at which the project starts to move on its own and you're simultaneously the creator and the spectator of what's happening.
This state should not be confused with an artist's whim to just arbitrarily decide things while he works on them. Instead, it means the artist is simultaneously freed from all the questions concerning concept, characters, artwork etc. (because he answered them to a sufficient enough degree that they now can work without constant stopping and rethinking) and at the same time he's put on rails defined by the project itself. He cannot decide on a whim what to do next, which would actually be limiting to his creativity, because being able to do everything usually leads to not knowing what to do exactly – instead he follows what his project demands from him and just pushes into the desired direction once in a while, while letting it unfold on itself.
Apotheosis relies on the same elements that flow needs in order to occur, but instead of being applied to the artist himself, they're applied to his creation.III: TRANSCENDENCE
Transcendence is only loosely connected to flow. I sometimes use it to refer to an artist having reached a level at which he's struggled with a project, got highly engaged in it, got it to a point at which he managed to make it work and now is able to reflect upon it and truly understand it in such a way that it gives him new insights that didn't exist while he worked on it. One way of knowing that you've reached transcendence is by being able to reinterpret and reinvent your project without it being lost in the process, thus highlighting other facets of it or maybe even calling into question things that seem to be integral to it.
One of the best examples of transcendence is the episode "The Ember Island Players"
of the cartoon show "Avatar: The Last Airbender"
in which the events of the cartoon are reenacted and parodied in a theatrical way within the show itself. In essence, this episode is a meta-analysis of the show, done by the creators themselves. It shows that they not only understand their own work perfectly, but are on a level that allows them to spot its strong and weak points, to reinterpret them and present them in an alternative way and also to make fun of the absurdity of them. Paradoxically, this shows that the creators take their own work seriously, but aren't above humoring themselves and showing how much fun they had while working on the show. In turn, people that lack transcendence might be unable to look at what they're doing from a broader perspective, cannot put it into context, cannot re-evaluate it or simply cannot take criticism of it. This doesn't mean they'll never be able to, though – it might simply mean that they're currently at a point at which the project is in its refinement state in which the rules that later can be analyzed externally are still in the process of being formed initially. Transcendence cannot occur before a project is almost finished, because it would lack the insights that are only available at the final state of it. And these insights are vital.Might be continued— The painting in the header was created by Fons Heijnsbroek (CC-BY).