Letting Go to Make Art

In a recent NY Times article about white asparagus, the writer Elaine Sciolino confessed, “The first time I set out to harvest white asparagus, I was issued a harvesting tool that looked like a long two-pronged screwdriver and told to go out into the fields and feel the vibrations. I wanted to do well… ”

Graphic of "Let Go, Let God"“Feel the vibrations?” I laughed. It reminded me of the time I enrolled in a Fine Art studio class at the University of Toronto. I had already entered the workforce as a graphic designer, a career where tight deadlines are the norm, creativity is on-demand, and the shortest route from A to B – whether concept development, layout, or production – is encouraged.

At the beginning of the studio class, my professor handed out tree twigs and x-acto knives. The assignment, for the next three hours, was to make something out of this meager piece of wood: write on it, carve into it, whittle down the edges… whatever we wanted. That was it. There were no other rules. There was also no goal.

I looked around skeptically. My classmates immediately took the knives to task and seemed engrossed in their carvings. “Surely, this can’t be all there is to this,” I thought. For the next three hours, I was incredulous with disbelief. It all seemed a big waste of time.

When the class finally ended, I approached my professor and confessed I didn’t understand the point of the exercise. “Isn’t it better,” I asked, “to decide what to make first, and then make it?” “That’s not the point,” he replied. “It’s about the process. It’s about developing a relationship with the twig.”

“Develop a relationship with a twig?” I asked. I was flabbergasted. “Yeah, right,” I thought. Try telling that to a client paying your bill. Needless to say, I dropped the class without too much afterthought.

Now that I paint, I have a little more appreciation for “the process.” This is not to say I begin without having an idea of where I want to go because that’s not my training nor my inclination. I do recognize, however, that the journey in between is where all the fun happens.

It’s nice to experiment, to lay a color down, change my mind, and scrape it back up, to make mistakes… all without the budget repercussions, the client pressures, and time deadlines. Often, I end up with a painting that has no bearing on where I thought it was going and yes, I like getting lost in the process of creating. That’s the place where I get into the zone and where time stands still.

The expression, “Let go, let God” provides a valuable lesson. There are instances when a roadmap comes in handy although sometimes, it’s more fun to simply let go and enjoy the ride.