Keeping up with creativity

I recently changed computer. It was no longer fair to expect it or I to put up with each other’s demands. Its required ritual of my needing to take the time to shower and make coffee after I had summoned it into action in the morning before it would be ready to function had become decidedly impractical. It had more latterly also decided to haphazardly close applications and refuse to re-open them without needing to be shut down and completely restarted.

Everything has a lifespan, and over time, there are some things you will always carry with you, hold onto, enjoy and find use for, and there are others that you need to recognise when to let go of because it no longer makes sense to hold onto. This was reconfirmed as I went into the computer store and the savvy twenty-something-year-old sales assistant Cedric guided me through the mind-blowing options available to me for my replacement “digital assistant”. I had spent time looking up the options online on my old faithful and then most often switched to the less visually practical but infinitely quicker smart phone I had also recently needed to update myself to. However, nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced as I left the shop two hours later with my brand new mega powered sort-and-remember-everything-for-you … and-even-do-your-next-art-piece-for-you computer.

I have watched develop the more recent movement of technologically created artwork with a mixture of fear and fascination. The demonstration that young Cedric gave me of how one can now paint, draw, sketch and even print in 3D got me thinking and wondering…especially as the end results were so unbelievably real. The painting app with its watercolour “pen” that could then transform to a piece of charcoal of varying thickness and then back to a simple grey pencil or ball point pen at the same time seduced and horrified me! “It looks just like the real thing…” I heard myself murmur to him, after I had traced a few shapes on the beautifully sleek and clear screen. “Gosh, well, I’ll take the laptop and give the rest some thought, thank you…” and then my mind went slightly riot! What was suddenly the point of getting my hands and the table in my studio covered in charcoal when I could produce a clean sketch in no time on this pad and the end result be so uncannily realistic? Why produce all this work on paper that you then need to store, date and sign when you can do and store it all digitally? 

I spent the next days getting to know my new computer, marvelling at its speed and efficiency and enjoying the crisp superior quality of sound when streaming my favourite music. In the back of my mind swirled questions of the value of art, technology and the point of working through traditional means to produce art. But then I picked up my paintbrush and continued working on a piece that I have been working on for the last couple of weeks. It was now ready for me to continue because the surface had dried as I needed it to and, as I set to work, I was instantly reminded that this was why I do what I do. A main aspect for me in being an artist and making art is the process of doing it. I love working with my hands and having the concrete satisfaction of washing them with my brushes at the end of the day. I really enjoy seeing what colour the water has turned when I reach a stopping point and go to throw it out of my water jar.

When I was sculpting, the moment when I would feel the plaster mix warm my hands because it was beginning to go off would summon my attention into a next stage of work before the material hardened too much and became unusable. The contemplative time spent picking the dry plaster or clay off my hands as I decided what to do next for a work in progress was part of the pleasure in making. I can spend hours in art supply shops browsing what is available, looking for that material, colour or support that will allow me to best produce what it is I want to express/ make. After a couple of sideways glances to see that no one is looking, I will pick up the demonstration copy of a sketch pad, the one not wrapped in cellophane, and bring it close to my face. As I inhale that delicious smell of the pages, it infallibly makes me smile as it promises to lend itself to hours more sketching and drawing.

When they first came out, I enthusiastically bought an e-reader because the idea of having all that reading material readily and practically available seemed fantastic. I love to read and my book consumption and storage is a slight bone of contention with my husband! However, I ended up reselling it because the uniformity, lack of smell and possibility to turn real pages, beyond all my praise for finding a paper-free-ecological-solution, took out part of the pleasure of reading for me. I just as enthusiastically went back to having books rather than photo frames on my bookcase shelves.

The process of making art in a more traditional way is partly what inspires me to keep doing it. When something doesn’t turn out as I had imagined it to or I make a “mistake” according to what I’d set out to do, I’ve now learned to not instantly jump at the “error” to try and fix or erase it. Instead, I take a step back to look at what the overall effect of this unplanned addition has on the whole piece. I will then decide if I want to integrate it in the work and let it take me in another direction or go about trying to rectify it. I have made a lot of my favourite pieces of work through mistake(s). I have never been drawn to the process of making art digitally because I cannot get away from the experience when working with any kind of machine that it, and therefore I in that moment, am only able to function within a predefined spectrum: it has finite parameters and doesn’t have the option to make mistakes. It works in a predictable way and if you are not savvy, like myself, in knowing all its options, what I am able to do with it is not entirely what I would define as creative.

Technology is intrinsic to our lives today in one way or another. In many ways it is what allows us to push through the boundaries and constraints of doing things in “only human” ways. I can become completely mesmerised by the crisp, clean and perfectly composed delivery of digitalised art. I marvel at how some artists are able to use technology in such a creative way. It takes real skill and talent, ability and practice, to know your medium and how to make it work for you. Technology is such a large part of what we do, how we communicate and who we are today. There must therefore be an artistic movement that produces art and expresses itself through technology in order to represent this generation and push the boundaries further for the next. The fact that there is a technological movement happening in parallel to the traditional ways of making, producing and storing art adds meaning to both ways. What we may miss or criticise, be bored by or dislike about one way of doing we can find and complete in another. The fact that everything has a lifespan forces us to continuously make choices of what we want to keep or move on from in order to keep being creative.