One of the challenges facing an artist who chooses to work ‘en plein air’ is finding a quiet spot that both satisfies their aesthetic and creative needs as well as minimising disruption.
Many creative people aim to achieve what I call an “alpha state” or what is more commonly referred to as “flow”. It can happen when you are absolutely and totally absorbed in what you are creating; as if, to quote Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “existence is temporarily suspended”. I've only ever experienced "flow" through drawing or painting and all I know is that I need peace, quiet and absolutely no physical or mental distractions to enable me to move into a "flow" state. While I’m in this state, I know I do my best work. Which in France is very difficult to achieve because watching an artist work appears to be a spectator sport.
Collioure is a magnet for artists (and would-be artists). You can’t walk down any of the popular streets in the town without bumping into somebody painting at an easel or sitting with a sketchpad. My fellow CRM residency incumbent, Frances MacDonald reckoned that the Fauve painters (ie Matisse, Dufy, Derain, etc who really put Collioure on the map in the early 1900s) just stepped out of their doors in the morning and painted the first thing they saw. Having seen some of their paintings and the locations where they were painted, I tend to agree with Frances’ assessment. Luckily for them (and for us), they were all living by the waterfront. Of course, the only spectators at that time would have been the locals and I doubt they would have had time to gawk at the Fauves while they daubed away.
Collioure Day 4. The town is already awash with tourists, so it’s a challenge to find locations where I can work without being interrupted. Before travelling to Collioure, I had decided that I wanted to use the month-long residency to draw and I’ll be writing more about the subject of drawing in a later post. It’s the initial stage in my creative process and it also means I don’t have to lug an easel, brushes and paints around. Anyway as it turns out, I spend the first week of my residency just trying to find interesting locations in and around Collioure where I can work in relative peace.
By the final week, I am determined to nail the view of Rue Jean Bart; a lovely, quiet tree-lined street, which nestles at the edge of the waterfront. I choose my working spot carefully, sitting rammed up against the long facade of the “Summer Palace Of The Queens of Aragon” looking across the small bay to my subject matter. I’m wedged into a slight corner where the walls of the façade converge at an angle of about 140 degrees, providing the perfect nook for me to work. I start to work with my drawing book on top of my canvas satchel, which rests on my knees. Only I can see what I’m drawing unless any interested spectators are double-jointed. The background chatter of the tourists starts to recede and all I can hear are the waves gently lapping against the shore. I am moving towards a state of "flow"…. until I’m aware of people standing directly in front of me blocking my view and one craning his neck to see what I’m doing. For the next hour, people come flocking up to see what I’m doing, often at great personal discomfort to themselves. No hope of "flow" then but worse, I can’t see my subject matter because of the spectators standing in front of me trying to see what I’m doing!
Tell me, if you saw somebody writing in a journal or a diary, would you stand over them watching them write? Do you stand over your colleagues at their desks, breathing down their necks, watching them work? I don’t think so. So why do complete strangers seem to think it’s acceptable to breath down my neck, watching me work? And it is my work, which many people don’t realise. It’s not a hobby or a pastime; it’s my work and this is what I live and breathe for. My drawing books are my own private visual diaries and most definitely not for public consumption, unless I choose to release the images into the public domain.
Don’t get me wrong, I am always more than happy to talk about my paintings and my methods to anybody who is interested, but not while I’m working. I just don’t do “performance” art.
(If you follow the link, but want to read rather than view this particular Ted talk, just click on the Show Transcript option and choose your language.)