I have been ruminating on ideas for a potential artwork series for nearly two years. I don’t think I have ever had such a long incubation time for a concept and admit that my patience at times wears thin. Yet, I realize I can’t force it to come. Perhaps, the delay is because this concept is so tied to my personal journey, emotionally and spiritually speaking, with its meaning so deep in me that I have yet to really discover a way for it to surface.
- mull something over: to think carefully and at length about something.
Even the word, when spoken, has a certain kind of phonetic lingering which seems to naturally provoke a thoughtful pause. I don’t recall anyone ever really teaching me how to ‘ruminate‘, yet it seems to be such a vital part of being an artist.
I used to have trouble understanding artists who produce only a few works in a year. I thought being a successful artist was all about being able to pump artwork out like a machine, creating to the point of it becoming so natural and/or emotional that thought was rarely required. The older and more experienced I become, I’m realizing just how much there is to ruminate on in this life and how much creating IS an act of ruminating in itself. I can dwell for long periods of time, developing notions to fuel my art making; yet, it doesn’t stop there. As I enter into the actual creating, I find myself ruminating and dwelling on a concept or idea at even greater depth, thus potentially birthing a series of related works.
“The experiences we choose to focus on are a way of rationalizing, organizing, understanding and illustrating the difference between seeing, knowing and telling. We move through these experiences from the inner self to the outer world.”
– Dennis Dunleavy, Mastering the Art of Observation
The second half of the definition for the word ‘ruminate’ was originally less appreciated by me. It seemed unrelated not to mention too physically graphic:
2. chew partially digested food: to regurgitate partially digested food and chew it again
But actually, the more I thought about it, the more it resonated within the art making context. Instead of the physical chewing and digesting of food, the artist is chewing and digesting ideas and concepts.
Artwork that really bowls me over with the weight of its meaning, must rarely come to form without the artist truly engaging with a thought or medium and… ruminating. Artists are drawn into chosen interests and led to invest time in thoughts, experiences, and/or research supporting their curiosity and desire to engage.
As I was taught through the inspiring images and words of photographer Abelardo Morell, it is about “having to work to earn an image… if it comes too easily, it’s suspect.”
So, my two year investment of dwelling with this concept, means that I am gradually digesting its content in bits that are manageable for me; swallowing what I can, then (bear with me) “regurgitating” what has been partially digested to chew on it again when inspired or provoked. I believe this slow percolating can add a certain amount of legitimacy to our artwork, because we end up residing within a concept for a season.
Artists are known for striving to present things in a new light. Why wouldn’t we expect that such an endeavor would actually require a little more time and presence with our work from its very conception?
“I dream a lot. I do more painting when I’m not painting. It’s in the subconscious.” – Andrew Wyeth