How do artists seek, find, or create inspiration?
As an artist/educator, I often find myself gathering inspiration for my own work from my experiences teaching in the galleries. Recently I have been thinking a lot about the nature of collaboration, and looking back to art historical examples to inform my own thinking.
Thinking back, I realized that the exhibition Dada at MoMA in 2006 was one of the first times this idea clicked for me. I remember being intrigued by how many of the exercises these artists were playing with over 100 years ago are still so relevant to the kind of teaching experiences I develop today. And after putting those techniques to use in my classes, I was also struck by how inspired I was as an adult to replicate and try out some of those same devices that had brought artists like Jean Arp, Man Ray, and Duchamp such a wealth of creative potential. I was impressed by how human these games made these distant “Artist” figures seem; by humanizing them their work became easier to understand and allowed me to layer some of their creative thinking and processes onto my own.
In my own work, I find it most inspiring to create constraints—mostly with materials, some self-imposed, some borne out of necessity —and work within them. How can I use what I have at hand, or can find for cheap, to realize a vision? Or when I find myself without vision, sometimes just playing with materials and making something– anything– in the studio can generate an exciting idea that then grows into larger concept and artwork later on.
When I was asked to come up with a Studio Immersion course for MoMA, I knew I wanted to explore these ideas with other adults, and experiment with how these forced collaborations, set criteria, and new materials might create an interesting dynamic within the class and inspire participants to expand their own practice outside the classroom. For one example, I love the Niki de Saint Phalle piece that was recently on view, Shooting Painting American Embassy (1961)—which the artist created by arranging packets of paint and food on a canvas, covering them with layers of plaster, and then asking collaborators to shoot at the canvas and release the paint—and that work prompted me to research other forms of playful, performative processes artists before and after her have employed.
The Dadaists and Surrealists fit in exactly with this theme of playful processes. Of course I knew about exquisite corpse drawings and automatic poetry, but, as I researched more, I was pleasantly surprised by the range of materials and techniques they implemented. Paint-based techniques were also used, such as Bulletism—a technique where ink is shot at a blank piece of paper and the artist then develops images based on the marks left behind. I can’t wait to get some willing experimenters involved with this!
This is just one example of many historical processes I’ve dug up for this course, and a few that I’ve created for us to play around with. So for those of you who might be thinking, “I’m not an artist,” or “I can’t draw,” or any other number of doubting thoughts, Mind Games will give you the chance to think like a Surrealist and let your subconscious be your guide. Break some rules and come draw outside the lines with me!
Class starts October 22. For more information, please visit MoMA.org/courses.