In last week’s article, I embedded a video of Sharon Isbin performing a classical guitar piece. The point of the article was how technical ability and emotion are both critical in your art. One without the other is not enough for truly great art.
It’s easy to find lots of how-to’s to help develop the technical aspect. And of course, lots of practice is required.
But what about the emotional aspect? How do you develop and cultivate emotion in your art?
Here’s a list of some of the ways that work for me. Realize that a lot of practice is important here, too.
Spend Time With Your Muse – Think of it as a relationship. Court your muse. The more time you give her, the more your muse will give you in return. Creativity begets creativity. Spend time creating. Have a regular date with your art.
Spend Time With Your Subject – Know your subject intimately. If you paint landscapes, spend a lot of time in nature (or with whatever your subject is). Walk slowly. Observe, feel, respond. Smell the air. Smell the pines and sage. Explore. Contemplate. Discover the underlying rhythms of nature. Find metaphors in nature. Meditate. Do all this without your art supplies. Simply build a relationship with your subject. You will strengthen your feelings about it.
Create Art With Your Subject in Front of You – Create from life as much as possible. If your muse speaks to you while you are standing on a river bank, why would you just take a photo to capture the scene and hope you can remember what your muse said later in the studio?
Get Clear through Thumbnails – Before you begin a piece of art, draw several thumbnails. You will dig deeper into yourself and into your subject as you do. You will begin to become more aware of what you are responding to.
Write – I find it helpful to write a few words while doing my thumbnails. I have also on occasion written my thoughts, feelings, and impressions while simply meditating in nature. Also, writing after the fact also helps solidify ideas and helps you become more aware of how you respond to your muse. It will strengthen your ability to identify those feelings in the future.
Title Your Work Before You Begin – Sometimes simply giving the work a title before you begin helps you stay clearly focused on what you want to say.
Develop Your Memory – As much as I advocate painting from life, there is a time and place for memory painting. Superficial details are forgotten and impressions and emotions are retained through memory. Let memory guide your work, and as a result you will have more emotion in your work.
Create a Studio Environment Conducive to Getting Into the Zone – Create a safe haven in your studio free of distractions. Fill the space with things that promote introspection, creativity, memory, happiness, etc.
Identify Emotional Triggers – Find things that bring you back to meaningful memories or strong emotions. They could include music, smells, images, tastes, etc. Fill your studio with these.
Develop Routines the Get You Into the Zone – Basketball players have routines at the free throw line. Golfers have routines for the critical putts. So do performers and boxers and many others. These routines aren’t just quirky habits. They are choreographed methods to get you to focus intently on what you are doing so that you can be at your peak performance. They are designed to get you into the zone.
Use rituals, emotional triggers (see #9), arrangement of your colors on your palette, placement of easel in your studio, other routines, etc. to get you into the zone. Do this each time you create.
Meditate – Yes, I included meditation as part of spending time with your subject (#2). But spending time to meditate on the bigger questions in life, on family, on spirituality, etc. is also important. Your choice of subject and how you respond to it is in direct relation to who you are as an individual. Your beliefs, philosophies, personality, relationships, etc. all play an important role in shaping you. Pondering on these issues, though not directly related to your art, will strengthen your inner-self. Your art will benefit. Your creative muse comes from who you are holistically.
Spend time developing your emotional voice, coupled with your technical development. If you do, your work will have much more meaning.
Share what other things you do to cultivate and nurture your own emotional connection to your art...