CREATING WITH INTENT- A PAINTER’S MANIFESTO
Amidst accusations of elitist and exclusive ‘international Art-Speak’ (aka ‘arty bollocks‘), all artists are encouraged to write their Artist Statement (you can see mine here). A Statement is ‘a concise summary of your art practice to help others understand your work… a clear, direct artist statement is essential, particularly on applications for grants, art schools, open-call exhibitions, residencies, and other career-advancing opportunities.’ (from Artsy.net)
To me, a creative manifesto is somewhat different- more human, often deeply personal. Whilst my statement is likely to adapt and change with a new body of work, my manifesto is likely to reflect my values and guide me towards fulfilling my ‘why’; the meaning and purpose behind my creative practice.
Since the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848 we have come to associate the Manifesto with the rhetoric of political movements. But recognising the power of the word, many renowned artists such as Richard Diebenkorn and Grayson Perry as well as whole movements such as the Stuckists have evolved their creative values and objectives into a manifesto. I was encouraged to pull together my own thoughts on this when I felt myself lacking focus and courage in my work. It’s a humble offering compared to those artists mentioned, but hey, it’s a start.
The word Manifesto derives from Latin, literally meaning a statement in which someone makes their intentions clear. Regarding my own art, it’s important for me to paint with purpose and integrity and not just knock out pretty pictures for decoration. I see my creative manifesto as a guide to help me to;
determine my intentions
overcome any creative blocks
solve problems that inevitably arise
challenge me to leave my comfort zone, and generate and develop new ideas
hold me to account
make sure I stay focussed
give me permission, should I need it
ensure there’s not a disconnect between the head (what I think my art is) and the canvas (what it actually is)
So it’s a kind of North Star, on paper, to guide and motivate, to encourage action and serve as a map should I stray from the path. It’s a reminder of why I do what I do and to fully live my purpose.
It’s not a New Years Resolution, but a declaration of intent, an affirmation of core values, strengths and beliefs, and a resource for decision-making. In a crisis or stressful situation, or if I’m up against a deadline or have conflicting priorities, having a strong foundation down in writing can help me prioritise, and say that hardest of words, no.
The very act of writing a manifesto is in itself a statement of intent. Seeing words of aspiration and commitment helps to embed these affirmations in your psyche and to create neural pathways that will help keep you on track.
I have a shorthand version of my manifesto on the front of my journal and on my studio wall. That way I see it every day, and reading it is becoming part of the studio routine. If I get stuck, I can ‘dip in’, and metaphorically pull out a card which will help to get me out of creative jail, free.
Manifestos can be written around any subject. As I write this it’s likely that in the UK we will imminently be subject to a General Election and the various political party manifestos, which in recent years we have learnt to take with a cynical pinch of salt. Leaving political discussions aside (you’ll have to follow me on Twitter for that!), your personal manifesto could cover your health well-being, how you spend your time or money, or relationships.
My personal, creative manifesto that I’m talking about here is quite specifically about painting. I have a more general, very short manifesto for life, which is basically my bio on social media, where I call myself an ‘ambassador for creativity, positivity and compassion.’ (A point to note is that when I wrote this several years ago was when I was coming out of a long period of depression and the mantra was absolutely aspirational. You don’t have to be living your life this way already to be able to declare it. Write it down, and it will be so. )
If you don’t have any idea where to start, consider how you define yourself- or would like to? How do you want to live your life ? Write it down in positive strong language; ‘I will’ not ‘I want’.
When I put my manifesto together I considered
what is it in my work that keeps inspiring me?
what legacy do I want to leave with my art?
what are my strengths?
where is my passion?
what do other people say about my work?
what do I do with joy and ease?
what do I struggle with?
what threads and motifs keep appearing in my work?
What message do I want to send
How will I know if I’ve been successful?
What is stopping me?
You could also use the following framework to prompt some ideas… these are great prompts for journaling.
I accept …..
I endeavour …..
I know ….
I am intrigued by…
I am curious about…
I allow myself to…
I’m committed to –
I’m not afraid to…
I will take no notice of ….
I will remember… ￼￼￼￼￼
this is my manifesto…
There is a place for my art in the world and there is time to make it happen. Now is the time to make it happen.
Life makes no sense without art. I will do what makes me come alive.
My life is my own gift. I am the sum of everything I have ever been.
I am present and grounded. I embrace solitude.
Ease is everything. There are no rules, no force, less effort.￼
I am proud to use my strong, feminine, unique voice￼￼.
I will put art first – or have a very good reason not to.
I am truthful in my art even when the truth hurts.
I am not afraid to get rid of things and not only on the canvas. The obscuring and taking away matters as much as the substance. I will let my paintings breathe. I know when to stop.
I am brave. I find courage when I need it.
I celebrate the discomfort. I am building the capacity to be uncomfortable. I understand that failure is process.
I take it all personally (it is personal). My sensitivity is my strength.
I will show up as myself. No boxes, no labels, no apologies.
I will look in, not out, for inspiration.
I will look out, not in, for feedback. There will be no more people-pleasing.
I don’t know and I don’t try and second-guess what the unknown buyer of my art wants. I paint for me. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. There are no shoulds, no musts.
I embrace the shit, the sweat, the tears – it is all part of the work. I accept that I can’t just have the good bits.
I am not afraid to go deep. to forget artificial; forget conventional; forget narrow; forget shallow. I am not afraid to be profound, to mine beneath the surface. I am not lazy.
I paint with grace, knowing that I have, and am, everything I need.
I will let the painting speak. I will allow the paint to decide, and the subject emerge. I will not force my intellectual ideas upon it. The art knows best.
I work with intention and don’t rely on happy accidents. I embrace creativity with commitment.
I also rest with intention. Rest is a vital part of the process. ￼
I pay attention to ideas. I make notes, ask questions, read, teach.
I know I can’t work all the time. I understand that the painting is the accumulation of everything I am and do. I allow time for incubation. Art is happening, even when it’s not happening.
I am like water; I flow with the land but I am unafraid to break the boundaries now and again.
I look closely and look again. I see everything and hide from nothing. I do not deny the chaos but dive into it to find the invincible calm.
I resist the temptation to tidy it up, to knock off the raw edges and sanitise the hard-won scars.
I ask- what do I want more of? What do I want less of? What can I do without altogether?
If I don’t like it, I don’t do it.
I do the opposite of normal as often as the normal.
I ask myself- what’s the most important thing I can do right now that will have the biggest impact on my art?
I ask myself- what’s the last thing I want to do￼?
I ask myself- does it mean anything
I will always remember why I do this, and the power and privilege of being an artist.
I’d love to hear if you have your own creative manifesto, or if you’re tempted to write one, after reading this?