Now, there is not much more offputting than listening to someone trying to recount their dream, but I ask you to bear with me as I share just this one scene:
I am visiting my old college art professor at his home studio, the one where I worked so many hot afternoons helping to prepare canvasses. As we catch up, I am casually flipping through his stack of recent artwork. Pausing briefly to reflect on each image, I comment on perhaps eight to ten paintings, lithographs and other prints. Overall I view perhaps twenty works, before he and I wander into another room, and the dream takes me elsewhere.None of the works were ones I had seen before. All were done in his style. I was dreaming in full color, because I remember remarking on his use of color in several pieces.
None of the works actually existed, except as instantaneous, fully completed creations of my dreaming mind.
The reason I even recall this dream is that once I woke up, I was struck by the fact that for the most part when I would try to draw or paint I would get completely stuck. Before I even started, all these doubts and judgements would arise about the final product. And more often than not, no matter what I wound up creating, I was unsatisfied with the result.
So how did that square with a dream where I could and did create what to my own critical eye were complete and satisfying works, twenty in a row, in the space of a few moments? Whether I had the skill technically to create them by hand myself is immaterial. The vision was there.
What this dream -- and indeed the entire human facility of dreaming -- points to is that the human mind is capable of absolutely astounding creativity. And what stops us from accessing that creativity are mostly our own ideas, fears and stories about our limitations, and about what makes an acceptable final product. Ideas which also don't exist except in our minds.
Attempting to work with what I learned from that dream, I have tried to retrain myself when faced with a blank page to just dive in and start making marks. To just see what comes up. Sure, I will continue to draw an occasional still life. But I find it a lot more satisfying these days to start without any plan at all and see what happens.
Turns out this is a lot more fun, and more often than not, I am satisfied with the final product.
What is circular for me about all this is that "just dive in and see what happens" is a lot of what my college art professor was trying to teach us so long ago.
This sums it up, from ZenDot Studio:
“If I was asked to get rid of the Zen aesthetic and just keep one quality necessary to create art, I would say it’s trust. When you learn to trust yourself implicitly, you no longer need to prove something through your art. You simply allow it to come out, to be as it is. This is when creating art becomes effortless. It happens just as you grow your hair. It grows.”
--John Daido Loori from "The Zen of Creativity"