Iteration Number One: The Possibility of Process

Hello there and welcome to the very first edition of Iterations, my mostly weekly brain dump of thoughts, inspiration and ideas. I'm not exactly sure what this is going to look like as we move along, but I would like it to be a conversation — which means I want to hear from you. So please feel free to respond, interact and above all else, tell me what is and isn't working. I want this to be interesting for both of us, okay? Here we go.

The Possibility of Process

I've wrestled with the terms Art and Artist for much of my adult life, both in terms of how I relate to the work of others and how I see myself and define my own work. My parents divorced when I was four and while my mother always encouraged my creativity, whether that meant drawing, painting, or abandoning a degree in marine biology to pursue scenic and costume design, my father didn't see the value — any value — in pursuing a creative life. Drawing and painting as a child was one thing, but deciding that I wanted to "be an artist" was something else entirely. "Artists are a dime a dozen," he would routinely tell me. "You need something stable, with benefits," was another favorite. My father worked for the railroad, as did his brothers, his father and most of his friends. In fact, I was the first in four generations of Saddoris men not to work for the Southern or Union Pacific, something which my father simply couldn't understand. I have to believe it was coming from a space of wanting the best for me, but he was relentless in his criticisms of me, and most of the time, cruel in how he expressed them. My mother was as supportive as he was critical, always encouraging me to follow my passion and quick to praise any creative achievement no matter how small.

Recent conversations about the boundaries and definitions of art — both big and small "a" — have made me realize that the voices of my parents are still very much a part of how I see myself at different stages of my creative process. For example, when I'm creating — painting mostly, though occasionally when I'm taking pictures as well — I hear my mom's voice encouraging me to pursue the happiness that comes when my hands are in motion making something. But if and when I share the thing that I've made, and it doesn't sell, doesn't get liked, doesn't matter to anyone as "art," that's when my father's words re-open a wound that has never really healed. I sometimes even have to fight through those words to start a new piece because for me, both the definitions and the ideologies of art and artist are very personal. I think that's one of he reasons I identify so much with process. Process contains infinite possibility, independent of the reality of response and opinion. So I keep making — slowly, purposefully — trying to hold on the little voice urging me on, guiding me along the path of creativity.

Are you comfortable calling yourself an artist and what you make art? What drives you forward or holds you back as you pursue a creative life?

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For the past couple weeks or so, I've been listening to old Yes albums while I work. I haven't listened to them with any regularity for years, but on a whim I booted up Relayer from 1974 and was once again hooked — superb musicianship supported by Jon's ethereal vocals have become the current soundtrack to my days of writing and painting. I've created a Spotify playlist of some of my favorites from Relayer, Tales From Topographic Oceans and Going for the One.

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Is your work telling a specific story or is it part of a larger narrative? In a terrific two-part essay, Ingrid Sundberg offers insights into the differences between the two and why many of us use one term when we really mean the other.

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Robert Rauschenberg has been an enormous influence on my work, both aesthetically and in terms of the process of making it. In this piece, Greg Allen shares the fascinating story of one of Rauschenberg's combines called "Short Circuit" from 1955, which once contained a hidden flag painting by Jasper Johns that was stolen in 1965. Years later, the flag was brought to a gallery for authentication but was never seen again. Neither Rauschenberg nor Johns ever acknowledged publicly that the painting was missing, despite the fact that the piece now contains a reproduction of the original Johns painting by Elaine Sturtevant.

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Archillect is an AI curation algorithm that posts images every 10 minutes to Twitter — and the images it (she) selects are terrific. While they don't appear to be random, I have yet to notice any discernible pattern. According to the site, "Archillect [archive + intellect] is a synthetic intelligence (or artificial intelligence, depending on the point of view) made to find and share inspiring visuals over social media channels."

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If you love conversations about creativity, check out my podcast Process Driven. In it, I sit down with photographers, artists, musicians and more for in-depth conversations about what drives them.

I'll be back in a week or so with more interesting tidbits and maybe even a story or two but before I go, I'd like to remind you of something Matisse said about creativity. It's simple, but powerful. He said, "Creativity takes courage." Now, go out and be courageous.