Of all the books offered to me for review at the end of this year, I chose only one. It was an easy choice, quite serendipitous really. The book is Nick Bantock’s The Trickster’s Hat published by the Penguin Group under their Perigee Book imprint. The subtitle, A Mischievous Apprenticeship in Creativity, gives you fair warning. This is not an easy comfort book of optimistic affirmations about your potential. Nor is it a list making, mind-numbing analysis of the creative process. In fact, it is the opposite. Mr. Bantock only takes 10 pages to set the stage for this book. The rest is full of exercises designed to assist you on your journey and “poke and prod the psyche” (page 8).
It’s about letting go and jump starting your imagination. There is no right or wrong outcome to any of the exercises. They are simply tools for exploration. Collage figures prominently, as readers of Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine trilogy might expect. But there are also exercises involving pencil and paper.
Because this is not a book meant to be read and put on a shelf, I had to do at least one exercise before I wrote this post. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr. Bantock would like nothing better than to see his readers batter and bruise their copies, filling them with paint smudges and chalk marks. It’s almost impossible to avoid sullying the beautiful glossy pages when you get into the “work” of the exercises. I started out with Exercise 5, Directed Collage, despite the fact that you’re supposed to do this one with someone else. Yes, I know. My creative Imp got loose early. What can I say? Sometimes the Trickster works that way. After gathering a few supplies, I read further into the exercise and realized I needed to round up a lot more stuff. By the time I sat down to play, I had put together a pile of ephemera, tissue paper, colored pencils, a blank canvas, and a few more paints.
First, let me assure you, I am not a mixed media artist. I do not have collage experience. In fact, I would not have been able to attempt this exercise ten years ago due to the unpredictability factor and the general messiness. Somehow, in the last decade, I’ve gotten over the severely limiting need for perfection and order. More about that transformation in another post.
Second, the night before I did this exercise I watched Transcendent Man–the documentary on Ray Kurzweil. The disturbing implications stayed with me through dreams, and quite clearly, were ready for expression. Oddly, I didn’t see that coming at all which just goes to show how your conscious mind likes to pretend it is in charge.Before I began, I let go of any expectation of where this was headed. I let go of any need for a controlled outcome. If it looked ugly, fine. If it looked disturbing, also fine. If it looked like a preschooler’s attempt, excellent. It was not about being Pretty or Interesting or Artistic. It was about the Doing and nothing more. With that accomplished, I completed the first step. And then the next one and the next one….When it was done, I saw quite clearly my subconscious ruminations on the catastrophic implications of the documentary. There’s an echo of the Cold War between the image under the brain and the gray-green-yellow colors of the paint and map. The dinosaur, the Greek sculpture, the Asian elements all point backwards into various points in the distant and very distant past. The number four is considered inauspicious by the Chinese. In numerology the number 7 suggest struggle, although in Western culture we tend to think of Lucky Number 7. The blue with yellow dots seems like a window into the Universe, a safe place beyond our turbulent planet. None of these elements were planned. It’s not pretty. It’s not nice. It’s nothing like my typical creative output. I won’t be hanging it on the wall. But I’ll tell what it was….it was fun, liberating and revealing. When I say revealing, I don’t mean because it ended up reflecting what was percolating in my unconscious. It was revealing because I learned I am able to turn off that infernal internal editor and let my imagination play with unfamiliar tools without suffering disaster. Previously, I only secretly hoped this was the case. This exercise gave me a chance to prove it.
When you switch mediums, you open yourself up to new ways of seeing and observing. You move through the creative landscape in different ways when you use unfamiliar tools and techniques. These are good things. Things you need if you want to expand your creative life.
The great news,…you can do this! Yes, it may take you a bit of practice to let go and dive in. You may have to coax your inner child out of the dark corner you pushed them into long ago. But it can be done. More importantly, it is worth doing! If you need help, and you’re willing to let the Trickster in on your journey, get this book. If you want some directed exercises to expand your creative mind, get this book. If however, as Nick says in the beginning of the book, “…you want a shortcut to originality…this isn’t the book for you.”