Edminster’s Law of Artistic Natural Selection: “Create like nature reproduces. Think eggs, diatoms, snowflakes, leaves, stars. Let yourself produce in amazing quantity, then see which of the little creations survives to grow up, become mature, larger.”
What do encouraging Julia Cameron, sparkling Melissa Dinwiddie, and wise Robert Genn have in common when writing about art? They are all fans of quantity. I was struck by the fact that two artists, Dinwiddie and Genn, both recently cited this possibly apocryphal story from Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. The idea must be abroad in the memosphere again. I especially love Melissa’s notes on process and her Principles of Play: Rules for the Creative Sandbox, which you can read in her thought-provoking blog.
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work in the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B” and so on. Those being graded on “quality,” however, needed to produce only one pot–albeit a perfect one–to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busy turning out piles of work–and learning from their mistakes–the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
I like to encourage quantity by always working in series, and by scaling down. Work small and have 3-6 pieces going at once. I like 5″ x 7″, 7″ x 7″, and 10″ x 10″ paper pieces. It reminds you not to take any one piece too seriously, and it links you metaphorically with creative nature and to the abundance of the universe. I think the most important aspect, though, is that this process of quantity will organically reveal what you really want to do, where your themes and obsessions lie. Just look, just count.
Implicit in this nature metaphor of quantity is that not all the creations survive. This is where God enters. To paraphrase Julia Cameron: Dear God, I’ll take care of the quantity; you take care of the quality.
I would add that the only thing in our real control is choosing to create. What is made through us, or what happens to it, isn’t really our business. Not all the sea turtle babies are meant to reach the wide sea.
Sometimes being an art teacher is absurdly easy; all you have to do is tell a student to do a hundred paintings (pots, videos, sculptures, performances). You instantly become an honored mentor– but the student does all the work! This is the kind of job I like. Don’t forget that it’s the student who reaps the benefits of those hundred pieces, though. Now it’s time for you to turn back to your own path of quantity…
What’s your favorite way to play with quantity?
Caerus Artist Residency Note: Suzanne’s new Studio Warming will be open for Winterblast on Sat. Nov. 17 in Santa Rosa! It’s looking good, with a new wall for large work and a pristine white floor. (Ha, that floor won’t stay white long.) I’d love artists to come between 4-9 and celebrate the new place with me! Caerus Artist Judy Olin will be selling her spectacular new painting magazine Gathering Clouds as well, featuring local artists in full color and hard cover, including yours truly.