For most of us, when we started creating art we did so with wild abandon. Just the feeling of the crayon, the smell of the wax, the surprise of the color scraped across a piece of paper was enough to thrill us. It informed our next move. Would we choose a different color? Would we make circles or squares or just enjoy the freedom of scribbling? Then when we got to ditch the brush or pencil and dip our fingers in paint we added a whole new level of tactile thrill. But as we grew comparison eked its way into our awareness, even grades started to be given out for artistic creations. Slowly, the abandon and expression was traded in for skill and outcome. What could feel more defeating than to draw a lumpy brown Snoopy and look over at your classmate's precisely sketched golden retriever and wonder if it's actually a photograph?
I loved art as a young child and loved it enough to endure not always being the "best" artist. That passion stayed with me as I refined my skills over the years, learning how to draw hair, depict shadows, and mix colors. I took art classes in college and then more after graduation. I added learning to oil paint to my list of skills. I just kept adding skills and I loved it but I forgot out the joy of creating like a child, with no investment in the outcome. Quite the opposite, I was very invested in the outcome. If a painting didn't turn out the way I wanted it to look, I'd be in a bad mood for the rest of the day and would immediately demote myself to ranks of the worst artists of all time. I knew this wasn't healthy and I needed to break out of this mold and process of painting but I actually didn't know how. Isn't that funny? An artist that cannot find a creative way out of an artistic rut.
Then I happened upon an amazing art teacher (Nicholas Wilton) online who was offering a program that would guide me in this exact quest, finding the feeling in my art, not just showing off my skill level. Oh, and Covid came along with it.
And so I spent the months of quarantine abandoning the way I've been practicing art for the last few decades and returned to playing with colors and shapes and even returned to using acrylics because they dry so fast that if I make a hideous color, I can cover it up in minutes. There is literally no road map. I sit down in front of a blank piece of paper or canvas, and put down my first mark. Then decide what feeling that mark elicits. Does it inspire red, does it want a thin pencil scrape? Does it need to be smeared or would it feel better with a perfectly executed circle over it? Each move is informed by the last one. I imagine it is what jazz musicians love about the art of creating music -- no sheet music in front of them dictating how it should sound. Just free flow.
I wonder if it is mere coincidence that I met this moment alongside the onset of Covid? Covid reduced our lives, threw out our plans, ushered in fear and left us wondering about the certainty of the future. Now that we are eight months into the pandemic, one thing I've learned is that moments of joy, however fleeting, are precious and must be sought out if we are to maintain some sanity. I have found so many of these moments in play. Playing scrabble with my girls, running down to the beach for a quick swim, throwing the tennis ball to my dog, or sitting around the dinner table having a laugh with friends and family; these are all moments when there is no expectation of an outcome, no orchestration, just pure enjoyment of the moment.
When I get the chance to paint abstractly now, this is what I am reminded of. It is a moment of grace in the day when nothing is influencing my decisions other than how I feel about the last mark I made. It's simply play time.