Saturday, July 12, 2008

Desire, Contrast and Tension

In a variation of the Midas touch, without the ironic twist that you could never touch another human being (or possibly scratch an itch!), suppose that every creative idea you attempted to express worked out flawlessly? That your every effort was met with critical acclaim? That it required no real effort on your part to succeed beyond your wildest dreams?

I wonder how long I would stay committed to my visual art if I had this power? Or would I seek one new challenge and stimulation after another? Over the next year I might sculpt a new David, paint a new Mona Lisa, beat Tiger Woods at golf, dance with Alvin Ailey and then saunter off to Hollywood to write, produce, direct and star in my own Oscar winning film. Top it off with a Pulitzer prize-winning novel. Effortless, limitless creating. I admit it, it's tantalizing.

But is it just making everything we touch gold that we are really seeking? Or do we also fall in love with the practice and process of Getting There (wherever that may be)?

In visual art, contrast and tension are vital elements of good design. There's contrast and tension in the creative process as well. Try watching children really absorbed in play. They are seldom laid back and relaxed. Rather, they're active, bodies and minds engaged and in a state of high energy.

My creative times are filled with tension at well, not unpleasant, more like the tension that builds when an aerialist is somersaulting from one trapeze to another, when the gun fires and the gate opens in a horse race, when a figure skater leaps into the air to attempt a triple axle. It is a tension that comes from knowing there is a bridge to build between intention and actualization. At times the body, mind and spirit work together so effortlessly, so beautifully -- and the results of that focus, intention and action all come together to create stunning results. At other times, the horse stumbles and loses its stride, the figure skater falls, the aerialist misses the catch and drops into the net, but the repetition of these efforts over and over and over leads ultimately to accomplishment.

Artists may be less aware physically than figure skaters and acrobats of how much work and preparation go into accomplishment How many times do athletes fall as they practice, how many repetitions and refinements does it take to have the movements become so integral that they can appear to happen effortlessly?

When we watch a dance troupe and consider the incredible disciplined practice that goes into training a dancer's body, observe the nuance and gestural quality of the simplest movement, I think we can begin to appreciate how long it takes to develop a similar expertise in art making.

And yet I also believe that our desires and intentions do manifest. We can touch a surface and create gold. All we need to do is engage in that process of practice, commitment and setting our intentions. We can create anything that we are willing to work to manifest. And I believe that our eventual successes will give rise to new desires, new intentions and a new cycle of practice, work and growth. It's a delightful prospect to look at my daily efforts as preparation for my own Olympic Gold Medal moments, to feel a growing confidence and pleasure in my practiced techniques and recognize that I am ever more skilled at and knowledgeable about surface design and composition and creative process.

I can enjoy my never-ending curiosity that always leads me to my mischievous "what ifs" and mutter over the frequent failures that often ensue, but I'm more comfortable with failing now that I know it's just a part of getting to success.

A July 08 Reader's Digest article related the story of entrepreneur Sheri Schmelzer and how she developed Jibbitz, decorative accessories that fit into the holes in Croc shoes. Over a period of several years, Sheri worked through trial and error and a variety of challenges to create over 300 designs and built a retail customer base of more than 4,000 stores. In December 2006, Croc bought Jibbitz for $20 million, hiring both Sheri and her husband Rich to come on board and manage the product line. Please note that Sheri and Rich didn't retire to live on a Costa Rican beach. Sheri is the chief design officer of what is now a global business and seems to be thriving on the creative challenge of designing new products in the Jibbitz line. She turned a simple idea into gold -- and the gold seems to be secondary to her love of creating more new ideas!

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