Creative Process: Jerry Wennstrom - Wandering
The creative process is a highly individualized form of exploration. It is inexorably linked to life experiences and cannot be reduced to a generic model. Learning our own unique creative process is an act of lifelong perpetual discovery - an exploration deep within the heart, mind and spirit where the paradox of the beautiful and the horrific find a sense of unity. Jerry Wennstrom describes his creative process as a form of "wandering" through "frightening territory" in pursuit of a "shimmering allurement." To me, this reveals insight into his perceptual acuity - an area of learning that I believe is greatly undervalued if not ignored in our systems of education and training. Here is Jerry's own description of his creative process with two samples of his artwork, and my own interpretation of his thoughts...
Jerry Wennstrom on the Creative Process
Jerry Wennstrom: There is a pattern of deeper meaning that appears in my work. I see this pattern mostly in retrospect, however. I find it interesting that the sarcophagus like boxes that I have been creating over the years should have emerged from my particular path as an artist and as a human being exploring the frightening territory that I have explored. I have come to the conclusion that high art and the cutting edge of the creative human experience exists in one’s willingness to face all that the psyche perceives as limiting or frightening. The ego may interpret such an experience as sure death to its existence and this may actually be a correct in assessment. The ego’s metaphorical death seems to be the territory where my greatest inspirations are born. I find it curious that I should have inadvertently arrived at an art form that interprets and translates this discovery into three-dimensional art. My coffin-like boxes are perceived by some, as “spooky” and may actually look everything like “death;” yet, they are whimsical, playful and full of life. This paradox, you might say, is ritually and reverently tended in my creative process.
My basic approach to creating art might be best described as Wandering. I follow any shimmering allurement that presents itself--objects that I run across might spark an idea or an idea might form a poetic link with a thought I may have had that same day. A conversation or even a dream may link to some original allurement. Many things stir into the mix in the process of creation for me. There is a coming together that begins to build a cohesive whole. The way an art piece develops is a discovery--one thing leads to another. Often a whimsical idea will come, which I will then incorporate or someone will give me an object that fits perfectly into a piece. It is as if the wind is in my “creative sails” and physical creation of the piece happens quite easily. There also seem to be natural, creative cycles where I feel there is a window of opportunity and intuitively sense that the piece I have been working on, sometimes for months, must get done NOW. When I get this feeling I will often work late into the night until I finish it. What I find interesting is, that often when I finish a piece in this way, the world seems to re-enter my space and my energies are required elsewhere. If I had not finished the piece when I did, the creative process would have been interrupted. I have come to trust this cyclical, intuitive process.
1. Reflective Thinking and Meaning
The deeper meaning that Jerry finds his work emerges in retrospect - through self-examination and reflective thinking. In other words, at the time the work of art is being created, the meaning of that work may not be fully understood by the artist. Another way to think about this is that once a work of art is produced it contains emergent properties that reveal themselves over time. This brings us into close proximity with the idea that a work of art goes out into the world and begins, in a metaphorical sense, a life of its own. The memory of a work of art, even for the artist, is in a state of constant flux. This is not a form of education or training, but is clearly an important dimension of learning.
This means, in one sense, that our perception of the work of art is dynamically connected to the experiences we have in life. No two individuals will find meaning in a work of art in exactly the same way. No two meanings will be identical. However, this also implies that an artist naturally, even necessarily, embraces perceptual acuity in learning, not just knowledge and skill. If we are perceptually impaired, then the meaning we are able to generate about our lives is also impaired regardless of how many facts and skills we can bring to the interpretation over time.
2. Frightening Territory
There is an implied sense of resilience in Jerry's ability to explore frightening territory. I do not see this as having a negative tendency toward the macabre but, in fact, just the opposite - it is openly embracing the fullness and mystery of life.
The two works of art above, Open and Closed, have a frightening sense to them and may invoke a sense of fear and morbidity. However, as Jerry points out, they are "full of life" - and I agree with this interpretation. This are images of hope and optimism that emerge from the frightening territory. They provide insight into Jerry's journies into his own dark mysteries, but also provide a gateway to walk into our own. Unless we walk through this gateway, we cannot experience the beauty the emerges.
Of course, there is danger here. The danger being that we may not emerge from the frightening territory and instead become held captive to it. Paradoxically, I also sense in Jerry's thoughts that unless we fully and completely open ourselves to our own frightening territory, we are in effect being held captive by fear in any case. Turning away from the frightening territory may perhaps be equated to living a life of quiet desperation and the regret that follows when the end of our time is near.
Death from the artist's perspective, then, is intimate with the learning process. But this intimacy is not one of morbid fascination or commercial entertainment. Instead, it is the fullness of life and living that is being explored.
3. Wandering as Creative Process
I like Jerry's use of the word "wandering" to characterize his own creative process. Wandering has a an intimate relationship with discovery. It has a close connection to the idea of play. The learning objective, if we were to try and state one, is to open perception as completely as possibly to our own experiences - our own path - our own journey. Without this wandering through personal experiences, our ability to open our perception to life is limited. Undoubedtly, "wandering" as an educational objective would likely be unacceptable. Without it, however, I suspect that the ability of an educational system to encourage and facilitate anything even remotely called Art is extremely limited.
There is Art in the style of living we undertake in bringing our personal expressions to whatever forms they take. The objects of art, the physical and material products of the process, are a reflection of the artist's creative process - a reflection of the artist's Art. In this sense, high art, as Jerry calls it, is directly and inexorably connected to a fearless sense of wandering - intellectually - emotionally - physically - spiritually - through the personal and collective experiences of everyday life.
4. Natural Creative Cycles
In modern society, we seem to do as much as possible to denigrate if not eliminate natural and creative cycles. Our lives are often scheduled to the point that even sleep is no longer a natural cycle. The control of time is power, and if this power lies outside our own personal authority then we live according to someone or something else's time.
Perhaps this is one of the most important reasons that an artist is compelled to "step outside" of society. In a sense, they are stepping outside of society's demands on our time in order to care for their own natural creative cycles. An artist reclaims time as their own, and in doing so undertake a heroic and courageous act. At the same time, it is a responsible act, for if they do not recover authority over time in their own lives, they will in all liklihood have very little to offer society.
We live in a clock and calendar driven world. From the moment we are born we become immersed in the pattern of childhood - education - work - retirement. This, to my thinking, is not a creative natural cycle - it is an imposed habit that has become so commonplace we fail to question the underlying assumptions behind it. The creative process of an artist may require a "stepping out" from this clock-driven cycle in order to flourish.
A paradox is a statement that may seem contradictory, but through further exploration is found to contain an underlying truth. Commonly, we see two opposed ideas being held in close relation. For example, we can take the words "more" and "less" to create the sentence, "Less is more." This invites us to consider how having less of something in fact offers more.
In Jerry's creative process, I sense that the juxtaposition of "life" and "death" lies at the heart of an important paradox for him. The biblical statement, "One who loses his/her life, shall find it." The metaphorical death of our troubled spirit is replaced in the life of a new spirit and so we are able to hold life and death in a paradoxical tension. The creative process of the artist then is sometimes oriented toward seekiing unity between thoughts and ideas that are seemingly opposed to one another.
One possible effect of a creative process exploring a paradox is to expose ambiguities and assumptions that may be standing on the fringes of perception. Creatively exposing ambiguities and assumptions has the potential to cause us to re-cognize, or re-think, our own thoughts, ideas and beliefs. This in turn may help to foster deeper meaning.