I read a quote on NPR the other day that said “Doing just 20 minutes of improv a day can increase creativity, decrease social anxiety and increase our ability to tolerate uncertainty.” I’d say the word “improv” here can also mean sketching, painting, all kinds of things… basically, experimenting, doing something without a rigid plan or projected outcome, and rolling with whatever happens.
The quote touches on another thing that’s a bit more subtle but worth noting. That being human is a part of the experience. It’s inevitable that our human tendencies will show themselves in the work we do, but only if we allow them to. This means it will include the trepidation when entering unknown territory, as well as the problem solving in order to devise new ways of navigating that. In this way, it’s the most real it can be. There’s a visceral quality to the art made by our physical selves and our ideas, the spontaneity, the responding, that is so essential to this experience. The only way of getting to this is in the doing. In the creating, the making, the spending time, the learning, the overcoming. This is what being is, it’s what living is, and it shows itself in the work done by humans who are attentive to this and nurture that as one of the most important aspects of the work.
I’d like to think that everyone puts care into the work they do and share. The same way they’d show care for themselves or care for another human being. I sketch and paint every day and the act of drawing and painting often has me pondering things like this. It also helps my overall well-being. It’s somewhat a form of meditation for me, and it becomes much more of a flow state given more time in the moment. I go into it as a chance to discover as well as be attentive to the present moment and my thoughts, allow for them to come and go, while also making marks on the surface. The mark-making is similar to the thoughts coming and going, like a dialogue with the drawing or painting, responding to each mark that’s made, not projecting an outcome, but having a spontaneous response and conversation with the piece I’m doing. I see it very much like the NPR quote above. It’s also helped me sift through the happenings of the day, to wind down or gear up for what’s next, shift gears between projects or tasks, to process thoughts and emotions, to practice being mindful and open to new and different things, different ways of thinking, and problem solving on the fly.
Making a piece of art is about the doing and the opening up to new discoveries. The tactile quality, the human element, the time spent are all factors in this. This practice as it applies to sketching can also help with this same sort of way in which we navigate the rest of our experiences. It requires a dedication and patience while also a sense of letting go. I tend to try not to go into a sketch session with the idea that I’ll be using them for anything other than to allow myself the time and space for the act of doing it. Given an opportunity, it can act as a guide for how to navigate in other sorts of uncertain life situations. It can help to sort out or solve other problems that are unrelated to the drawing that’s being done. Allowing for that time with the making of our work can help to realign and rewire our thinking in art and other aspects of our lives too. Basically, we can think of it like a dual course in life and art simultaneously.
Along with the tactile and mindful aspects of art-making, there’s familiarity of our tools as well as our temperament. The quirks that make us who we are, the experiences we’ve had that are unique to us, the way we see things, observe our surroundings we exist in, the other human beings we admire and interact with all become a part of the work we do in the most authentic way. The filter it forms through is us, and how we tell that story is an integral part of the experience of doing the work. There is no other way to get this. Not in life and not in art. I also find myself thinking how grateful I am while I’m creating my art. Grateful that I can utilize this time while I draw or paint to think about these kinds of things, to get a brief glimpse of someone I know or hear words that inspire me float through my mind from the people I admire and love. How grateful that I’ve had those experiences and can share them and create new authentic experiences from them. Creating is amazing that way. There is no way to duplicate this human experience that’s so integral to the making of art. The doing and experiencing is a huge part of what creating is all about, and the care and attentiveness we put into that shows and is felt.
I’m sharing this video below from earlier this year that I made for a feature with Artefex. In it, I share what painting/art is to me. It’s important to me and has even taken on a new meaning more recently, further demonstrating the beauty and significance of the human experience. I hope you enjoy it.