Monday, September 7, 2009

Unexpected Sources of Creativity- Andi's Spinning Class

Philip Koch, October Sea, 5 x 7 1/2", 2009

I'm all wet.

It's sweat, honestly earned in this morning's spinning class. Spinning is a group exercise class with music at my gym. It takes place in a bunker like room with some 20 stationary bikes facing Andi Worthington, our teacher, on a spotlighted stage. Andi teaches exercise physiology at nearby Towson University- somehow that's a comfort as she barks out orders to her suffering troops. She also shouts out encouragement, and I need all of that I can get. The idea is to give a big hit of cardio-vascular exercise with as little stress on the joints as possible. Did I mention this class hurts?

For everyone, the sources of our creativity will always be mysterious and elusive. Often times I feel artists can get stuck in over-thinking their art. Art schools, universities, art museums and the like can inadvertently foster the idea that the essence of art can be grasped in hand and explained, usually at great length using long words. I don't think so. On the contrary, I'm convinced some of the activities we do "out in the world" bring us closer to our creative selves. 
I take Andi's spinning class twice a week because it keeps me healthy and because she makes it fun. But there's a deeper reason as well.

Sometimes I push myself too hard in spinning and get a little light headed and nauseous. Other times I've been too cautious and find myself with too much energy left at the end of class. The trick is to balance your capacity with the demands of the class. When it works you get a marvelous feeling of mastery and power. 

I confess to having a strange private fantasy during class- and it only happens when I'm really tuned in to my body. I'll suddenly get a second wind and start to feel stronger. I visualize an unseen creature rising up underneath me and me riding it like a bull at a rodeo. It tries to throw me off and I struggle to cling to its muscled and hairy back, taking its beastly power up into myself. I'm not nuts, this is just my personal way of visualizing a part of my personality that usually stays hidden in the shadows of the unconscious. Don't laugh, but I think of it as a giant buffalo. All of us are after all, animals. Animals live guided by their instincts far more than we. In our rush to become civilized and educated, we have forgotten some of our best skills. 

I like Andi's spinning class because it forces me to stop trying to be so analytical and thoughtful, and instead to turn around and shake the hand (or should I say furry hoof) of my half-buried animal instincts. We need those instincts. One of our primary jobs is to get re-acquainted with our instinctual and intuitive side. Why not in spinning class?

In the middle of a making a big painting you've got maybe 100 colors mixed on your palatte and easily 1000 shapes colliding with each other on the painting's surface. On the good days, you somehow manage to pull it all together, but if you're honest with yourself, you realize you don't know how you did it.

Countless times I've examined paintings I've done and smiled at some elegant compositional trick I've invented to get the painting to work. Then I realize with  a chill, "I didn't put that in there." Someone else did. It was my unconscious, who decided for what ever the reason to come join me in painting that day. She (I always think of it as a her) comes and helps me when she will. Other days she's won't come no matter how much I implore her- maybe she's out riding galloping buffalos. 

This is one of my color studies done out of the imagination in soft pastel on artist's sandpaper.
Working on a diminutive scale allows the color choices to happen fast, much faster than when I've oil painting, and this leads to me making some selections outside of my usual comfort zone. It's good to shake things up a bit once in a while in your studio. It's rumored buffalos are partial to pastels.

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