Spontaneity and Improvisation

It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. –––(Picasso).

Z: L Doctor
Z: L Doctor

Z: L Doctor (above)

I am teaching two day classes at our local art store. In spite of my initial resistance to the cramped quarters and short time frame, it is rewarding. I leave with a full heart from the students that show up and the generosity of Preston Arts. It is a community art store run by artists, and owned by a man who strongly resembles Mr. Rogers (one of my heroes). There is the coffee and danishes all set up for us each morning, with a warm greeting from Mr. Rogers at the beginning of class, and handwritten signs and class lists that could be from the 1950's.*

Questions that require further contemplation arose in our class this past weekend:

Where does spontaneity come from? Keith Kleepsies, one of the participants, used the phrase "controlled spontaneity”. How do we resolve the paradox between control, and the letting go of spontaneity? How do we tell the difference between a spontaneous expression that has substance, and one that does not? When is a mark alive, or dead? Authentic or self-conscious?

I suspect that the "controlled" part of the phrase has to do with tossing out the notion that spontaneity "just happens" out of nowhere– it arises out of structure. For spontaneity to occur, there needs to be clear boundaries. And, as Picasso said, it takes a long time to see, to paint like a child. It takes a long time to internalize form, so that you can draw freely from it in the moment, as in this example below:

A: Keith Kleepsies
A: Keith Kleepsies

In our class, we began with the classical Roman letter:

Demo: L Doctor
Demo: L Doctor
M: Marilyn Fischer
M: Marilyn Fischer

We were improvising on the calligraphic tradition of a text block with an initial capital. Each student chose one letter to work with, chose a palette, and then began writing out a text.

For the text block, the assignment was to insert your letter each time it shows up, in a way it will stand out.

D: Diana Fulner
D: Diana Fulner
Writing sample: Julie Tirpik
Writing sample: Julie Tirpik

We looked at examples of "decorated capitals", including the work of Aldolf Bernd, and the students began building from the structure of the Roman to a more improvised form:

L: Mary Lou Sherman
L: Mary Lou Sherman

Spontaneity and improvisation, forces that give life to our work, will naturally arise in an atmosphere of friendliness where structure is provided.

L: Lucy Pritchett
L: Lucy Pritchett
Z: Suzi Zimmerer
Z: Suzi Zimmerer

The students documented their work in the form of accordion book

Accordion Book: Suzi Zimmerer
Accordion Book: Suzi Zimmerer
Accordion Book: Keith Kleepsies
Accordion Book: Keith Kleepsies

The myth of "talent" can work on an artist's self doubt and keep us from showing up. I agree with the sentiment expressed by Keith Kleepsies:

I believe art is work.  I do not entirely believe in “genius,” pure and simple.  Great artists sweat.

This sentiment was impressed upon me by a statement my son made when he was just twelve years old: Mom, people talk about me being talented– they have no idea how hard I work!

Improvisation is motion. It comes out of the willingness to show up everyday for the work you are here to do– even if it's for only five or ten minutes. It comes from determination and the conviction to abandon excuses like "I don't have time". For a designated period of time, you leave the world and its bombardment of information– and you give your fidelity to the best you have to offer.

Z: Adolf Bernd
Z: Adolf Bernd

Photos taken by Keith Kleepsies

*http://www.prestonartscenter.com