Creativity and Creative Process Talking about a livable workable space in which to make art.

A Conversation with Sandra Indig

Artist and Psychotherapist

The most direct and unadorned way of describing my goals in working with artists is to simply say that I help them to fall passionately in love with their process.

Talking about a livable, workable space
in which to make art

Why keep company with people who want to engage in productive dialogue? People who have learned to and are willing to tolerate ambiguity and discomfort in themselves and others appear to also habitually seek out and engage in productive exchanges with others of like kind. The point of this, the reward if you will, is to reduce the tedium, accelerate the process by which one identifies a personal path and finds and/or expands and clarifies one’s own language, idiom and metaphors. To fail to do this is, in my opinion, to end up producing purgatory.

Cleaning up the raw stuff of creativity, denying its existence by “talking the talk” can be engaging, pleasant and often informative. Feelings of privilege and even superiority enhance the warm glow of talk about that illusive subject called “Art”, especially if the subject tends toward the formal, historical and in psychoanalytic circles, developmental. But that is not what brings creativity discussion groups together. We meet in order to find the words to talk about that which is for the most part pre-verbal, non-verbal and generally inaccessible except through symbol, analogy and metaphor. I think it takes warrior-like courage to show up and be available for honest conversation; to have faith that others will listen and try to understand what you have to say about your work and showing your work. Special conversations take special relationships. The bottom line is that one’s privacy will not be violated and that critical judgments of right and wrong are replaced by supportive attitudes and neutral listening. These are skills which are learned over time and practiced on a regular basis by both leader and participants.

The most direct and unadorned way of describing my goals in working with artists is to simply say that I help them to fall passionately in love with their process. It helps that I’m an artist who has spent a lifetime making marks and thinking about what it takes to make marks and sharing what I’ve learned and studied about mark-making with others.

An often repeated workshop theme is that there are no absolute truths about making art. However, there are certain preconditions that make for a “goodenough” working environment. I’ve observed that an artist, like a young child, must feel internally safe enough to create. They must have internalized the belief that they can do it. They must have separated and individuated enough to be able to get the supplies and create the conditions that will foster their efforts. In one of many conversations about this process of evolving and creating conditions which make the work possible, Gaye Elise Beda shared that she’s with her supplies and her work all the time. “It’s always at my fingertips: paints of every description, pencils, glue, frames, photos, files, computer and various kinds of flood lights. Grey days and night hours are never a hindrance. I keep my studio where I live so it’s right with me.” Like a modern day Rapunzel replete with long flowing golden hair, Gaye has located herself in a bunch of rooms on the top floor of a building in the lovely and almost sequestered Gramacy Park area of Manhattan. Proximity, closeness and easy accessibility to her personal storehouse of supplies and good light 24 hours a day make the magic for this painter – and she knows it.

Like Gaye, Chuck Levitan keeps gallery, studio and home close together. He long ago discovered that their close proximity was crucial for comfort and has speculated that this proximity is the keystone of his creative process. One block south of him is a unique commercial arena which seethes with life and things consumable and otherwise. Canal Street is a major impossibly congested and chaotic traffic artery in lower Manhattan.

However, for the indigenous like Chuck it is quite literally a source for both inspipration and the supplies he needs for his work such as air-conditioner ducts, colored plastics, elephant size rag paper, etc. Like John Cage, composer and Robert Rauchenberg, painter, Levitan follows in the tradition of artists who have discovered that beauty is underfoot whenever we take the trouble to look. His sensitivity to and sensibility for what is underfoot: the sidewalk itself, its texture, patterns and the stuff that adheres to it, to para phrase Rauchenberg, could be the stuff of an art aspiring to be beautiful. Out of a sense of place and the materials acquired from that place Chuck created a group of stunningly luminous and engaging paintings on paper. The series entitled,”Silver” was recently exhibited at the Chuck Levitan Gallery.

Such is the intensity of Donna Glazer-Pressman’s investigations into the nature of her subject matter, usually a highly charged contemplative moment, that she can convince you that the sky is the ocean, and that bridges can fly. Personally caught up with the phenomena of speed and the need to condense her sense of her daily life experience she paradoxically strives to “freeze” or represent on canvas the hushed stillness and inner centeredness she feels in her yoga classes or on frequent trips to places with big skies and vast, open spaces. A painting of an elderly man sits with his back to us on a park bench. The painter communicates her sense of the complexity and depth of the life of this man in the winter of his life and simultaneously lets the viewer know that everything has stopped; that no more need be said. It is of the my moment – and it will be that way forever. With the turn of a key in her studio door, she will leave her painting supplies and her “marks” and plunge into another reality knowing that that works for her.

My fantasy of a six room flat withattached studio and river-view belies my need to also turn the key and only carry away with me a small sketch book and favorite pen. After years of carting canvases on the subway to my then Brooklyn Heights therapist, I realized that living with my work was experienced as intrusive, overbearing and suffocating. The truth is that I chose not to live with my”family” – as I call my paintings. Yet, the internal process out of which I paint is all about family personages and personas. Because I work in a series or with groups of canvases, the studio ends up being a very noisy place. Fragments or areas of creative colors, shapes and so on “speak” to other parts of the assemblage and often vie for or compete for dominance while others cry out for attention. By turns I am hausted and enlivened by the struggle to create links, continuity and cohesiveness and at other times I writhe in pain from the silence. I have come to think about my work as a drama about making con nections.

I have never worked with anyone, myself included, who has been spared battle with their primitive fears and anxieties, who has not been entangled in the grip of thoughts too terrible to speak aloud and too punishing to keep a secret, and who has been rendered powerless by fears of censorship and habits of self-deception. Gratefully, not all things possible occur at the same time and in equal measure. The wish to know and not know is as ancient as thought itself. It is not that the process of self-awareness alone can eliminate all the ills and discomforts that visit us, including creative blocks, but there is a great liberating potential in trying. Only energy which is neutralized has the ability to stimulate and intensify communication and be channeled toward creative work.

14 MANHATTAN ARTS INTERNATIONAL SUMMER 1998