Generating new ideas can be an exciting stage in the creative process, when anything is still possible and optimism for success is at its highest. It can simultaneously be a disappointing stage, if no idea is deemed ‘good enough, to put into practice. When making art, the possibilities are endless as to what to make, which materials to use and the approach to take. With all that endless possibility, any small idea can be easily instantly dismissed if the belief is ideas should always be big, bold and impressive. The reality is nothing is original and everything has already been done before so no idea can be completely revolutionary. Small and simple ideas can even be more effective than big and bold ones. But that’s okay because now we can get on with making an unoriginal thing, lowering the bar of expectation to a workable height.
How can we free ourselves from unachievable levels of expectation on our art? Come up with a mountain of ideas. Spend time to write down as many ideas as possible. Set a time for 5 minutes and don’t overthink, just write. Linus Pauling, Nobel Prize winner said “The best way to have a good idea, is to have lots of ideas.” The pool of possibility is limited if you stop at 5 ideas because it’s more likely the mind will resort to more obvious ones first. With a goal of, say 100 ideas, that’s when things can get weird and wonderful. The large number forces you to think in divergent and unexpected ways. By idea 50 you’ve written done everything obvious and have begun ‘scrambling’ for more. Now things are getting interesting as the mind starts searching for unusual connections in an attempt to complete the idea-collation challenge.
Quantity of ideas is a better strategy compared to trying to come up with 1 or 2 ‘best’ ideas. That may keep you stuck because that bar or expectation will keep rising up in the face of ideas judged to be sub-par. As Albert Einstein suggests, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”
A playful approach to let go of making ‘good’ art or help release perfectionist tendencies is to use unorthodox tools or methods to make art. Jayson Zaleski talks about play: “Within the process of play there is a freedom to try new things, to take risks, and the latitude to approach the generation of work with whimsy, potentially with humour, with a sense of playfulness. This approach may not produce the highest quality of work, but it does begin to break down self-imposed rules and boundaries.” This experiment gives you less control over the outcome because you’ll be focusing on the tools and keeping them together. It’s a positive distraction to help you get making marks quickly.
You will need: paper and pens, felt tips or coloured pencils. Optional rubber band or sticky tape to hold tools together
Group together your pens/pencils in a bunch so that the tips are flush (none stick out more than others).
Fix together if it makes it easier, otherwise hold them tightly in your hand.
Imagine the bunch is one big tool and make marks as you would with one pen.
Play around with the number of pens and try different colour combinations.
Finding it tricky?
Use less pens/pencils to start with and add more with practice
Move your hand slower
Don’t think, just make marks. Even ‘bad marks’ provide information for your next attempt.
Using ‘childhood’ art materials like pens and felt tips also allow less attachment to making ‘real’ art: art that’s been made with paints and more more expensive tools. Taking action and making marks is far more important than the quality of what you make. Shaun McNiff in Imagination in Action suggests “The discovery of new forms and significant changes in expression require risk and experimentation with unfamiliar situations, which reliably generate errors and setbacks.”
Trying an unconventional (and fun) approach to making marks offers you space to experiment without worrying about how good anything is. You can just get on making as many crazy and spontaneous patterns as you can.
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein