Friday, January 15, 2010

Taking risks

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Every New Year’s  Day I make the same resolution! No, not the one about better time management – that’s a given! – but the one abut Taking More Risks.  Both with and within the work.

There are so many quotes about the importance of taking risks, you wonder how many writers just write about it, rather than doing it!   However, it is only by taking a chance on something  new discoveries are  made.  It’s very easy to fall into a pattern of producing variations on a successful piece – you just have to look at any quilt show, magazine, catalogue or book to see that!

Taking risks involves letting go of the security of past successes; continuing to make the same things over and over (even though they get into shows) can be stifling to an artist.    To be creative is to be a risk-taker.  It’s not creative to repeat.  Refining and developing, however, are good…but at some point I think everyone needs to look at what they’ve been doing and see whether growth is really taking place, or whether one is plateauing.  (flatlining? eek!!). 

How do creativity and risk-taking work together? Pablo Picasso said: "Every act of creation is also an act of destruction." A creative person will take the risk of breaking away from an established pattern in order to explore new possibilities.  I’m trying to work myself up to this!!

William Styron felt that  "the pain (of the creative process) comes from the 'extraordinary risk' from 'plunging into unknown territory' not 'really knowing whether you're going to come out alive.'"  No wonder it’s a scary proposition!  I don’t think I’ll be able to go that far.  But looking at my work over the last year or so, and looking at what I admire in other people’s work…and..coming to the realization that what I love is space, airiness, light and empty landscapes, I think I want to open up the quilt spaces a little more.  I want to try to dispense with the details (like windows and chimneys) that I wonder if I might have hid behind.  Yes, it’s a risk…but…

Picasso again:  “Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility.”

As Lee Krasner said: “We get used to a certain kind of color of form or format, and it's acceptable. And to puncture that is sticking your neck out a bit. (But) then pretty soon, that's very acceptable.”  So I’m going to try some new formats, some new colour schemes.  Several of you remarked on the pink I used in the last industrial piece – great!  It’s about and industry?  Leaves and branches and rusty corrosion?

And it’s important for me to follow Bridget Riley’s ideas that “nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces.. an event rather than an appearance. These forces can only be tackled by treating color and form as ultimate identities, freeing them from all descriptive or functional roles.”  That statement is such a challenge, and one I hope I can rise to! 

If you have been, thanks for reading!  and think about taking a risk with your own work…especially if you’ve made a dozen or so pieces that are very much in the same mode.  And write and tell us all how you did it!



Unknown said...

Thank you for that post Elizabeth! My "word" for 2010 is "experiment" and I see risk taking as a natural progression from there. It will be interesting to see where this year takes both of us! I'll be taking motic of which way you travel.


Unknown said...

Oops - that shoudl be "notice" not motic!

Victoria Findlay Wolfe said...

I think to keep the creative juices flowing we have to keep pushing our limits... Picasso had it right, about sterility... One becomes like a production line when cranking out the same things over and over...Systematically...
(Although some people are happy with that stride...)
I gotta keep trying new things... The challenge of learning something new either in sewing, quilting, cooking, or living, keeps life much more interesting...
And, Knowing Bridget personally, she just keeps evolving... Amazing stuff.

Jackie said...

Time on Task is my resolution, staying focused! Also, in line with risk-taking, is beginning a piece with the best of what I've got, whether or not each detail is decided. i can mess with schemes and plans for days when I know I've already done my best. I've done my homework and just need to BEGIN! Thanks for the encouragement and good example!

Wayne Kollinger said...


Your resolve to take risks is a resolve to be more creative. And I applaud you. It seems to me that it is often the most creative people who are trying to be more creative; the least creative don't bother.

Your quote from William Styron,"the pain (of the creative process)comes from the 'extraordinary' risk from 'plunging into unknown territory' not 'really knowing whether you're going to come out alive'", greatly overstates the situation. The risk is not to an artist's life but to an artist's ego. When you try something new and fail you don't die. However, your self esteem can be hurt. You start to wonder if you are really as creative as you thought you were. The result of taking a risk can be devastation or exultation. There is a lot at stake but it's not life itself.

Taking risks is key to creativity and Styron is right in saying taking creative risks can be painful. To better understand that pain we need to better understand the nature of motivation.

Understood in its simplest, and most naive, terms motivation is about pleasure and pain, about reward and punishment, about the proverbial carrot and stick. We are motivated towards those things that gives us pleasure and away from those that cause us pain.

But pleasure and pain can be de-motivators (negative motivators) as well. We often fail to reach our goals because of the pleasure of temptations and the pain of trying to surmount barriers.

When we speak of taking risks we are talking about facing barriers and not knowing if we can overcome them or not, not knowing if the result of our efforts will be devastation or exultation.

There are barriers that we have faced in the past and overcome. We feel most confident when facing these again. Having overcome them once, chances are we can overcome them again. So the temptation is always to do the same things. But there is little or no creativity in this.

New barriers must be overcome if we are to be truly creative.

Sometimes we discover, to our delight, that the new barriers are easy to overcome. Sometimes we discover, to our dismay, that they are hard.

When the barriers prove difficult whether we carry on or not, whether we remain motivated to reaching our goal, depends on three things. How great are the temptations to do something else? How great are the rewards calling us on? How great is the punishment for failing?

Your resolve to take risks and be more creative will at some time bring you face to face with pain. Remember that the barriers you fail to cross don't matter but the one's you cross do.