I’ve been sitting at my desk for a lot of today, finding words about hope, and continuing with the reading that I am doing about the work of Joseph Beuys.
Sitting at my desk with my back to the large drawing I’ve started and not giving it any thought. It is behind me because I had nailed the paper to the only possible wall, right behind my desk. Charcoal dust all over the floor and the soles of my feet, all over the dog and the piles of books. Its not lovely…
And, turning around, it has to be said that overall this drawing is not pleasing to me. I am speaking about this here, in order to be honest with myself, and to express to myself, in front of you, that sometimes things look very difficult and messy, and there is no certainty at all that they will mean or be anything useful. And this is difficult. One becomes invested in a work, in a certain outcome. Or worse, having embarked on something without being able to see a way clear, one starts to lose faith that there is a way clear, or that the journey is justified at all.
I have no idea where I am going with this drawing. There are some things that are good about it, an energy and a rhythm in places. I am starting to imagine ways that it will become material that I can turn into a book, or perhaps the inside of a box. But I also feel certain that it will need more work first. More attention. And the possibility remains that it might never be useful at all.
Which reminds me that in the course of my research today, I did read Joseph Beuys in conversation on the process of creating, saying something that I found interesting about quality, and mistakes:
“So the criteria for something …. as to its quality, can again really only be discussed in direct relation to something, by circling around it a thousand times, looking at it and trying different things out. Above all, it becomes interesting when you’ve completed something and think it’s perfect; and then suddenly see that in fact it’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. And then you have to rework it, in other words, correct it, and that’s particularly difficult. But it also has the enormous advantage that only now can you draw something out of it which never occurred to you as a possibility before, because it wasn’t at all visible. The mistake one makes in the first attempt can turn out to be an extraordinary gift as far as the work is concerned….. One learns an enormous amount from mistakes in particular, as long as one doesn’t tire too easily and say: Oh no, it’s no good – I’ll leave it and start something new. If one says: This mistake is something that I’m not just going to leave as it is, but I’ll make something of this mistake, which is much better than I originally envisaged…”
(From the book ‘What is Art’, Conversation with Joseph Beuys. Edited with essays by Volker Harlan, 2004).