The Why of I

The emails asked: What was I thinking when I created some of the work? What was in my mind, on my mind? What did I intend?

I wasn't able to answer those questions, and the writers were clearly frustrated. But I suspect that there are no answers. We have tried for centuries to figure out what happens to the mind during the creative process. We keep the brains of geniuses in laboratories and museums. We dissect their occipital lobes, their right hemispheres, their DNA and their genes. We pour through their journals and memoirs. We question their friends, neighbors, teachers. I had a teacher in the sixth grade who asked me to take some psychological tests so he could figure out how I thought. I did. He couldn't.

Do you remember the story about Jackson Pollock creating one of his drip paintings on a raised piece of glass? Beneath the glass was a camera recording every move he made. Does anyone now know what made Pollock tick? Of course not, but we keep on trying.

I couldn't answer their questions because I have no answers. I know that my best work occurs during a period of "white-out", when my mind concentrates on the image evolving before me and nothing else intrudes. The image has an inborn destiny, one which it does not share with me beforehand. Essentially I have to get out of the way as it gestates. How do I know when it's finished? When it is as smooth and dense as a boiled egg, as pure as a bald head. When it has nothing to add and nothing to eliminate.

It is labor intensive, and like the labor of birth, exhausting. Afterward I step back and ask what the piece says to me. That's when the title emerges. If it says nothing, the work is trashed - I have somehow interfered with its unfolding. It involves a culmination of decades, of feeling and thinking, of observing and questioning. And always it involves exploration, a willingness to surrender to the moment and a refusal to let the ego control what is happening. The piece can only appear when, in some sense, I disappear. That is why I compare the process to going insane, or sometimes to the mind of an alzheimer patient. We step beyond the boundaries of the known world and delve into the places that make others tremble, like crushing the thorn barehanded in order to know the rose.

And yet, if you want to find me, then search in the images. For everything I am is there, just waiting for you to decipher it. Do I sound like I'm contradicting myself? Perhaps I am, but contradiction underlies creativity. Can I tell you now what I meant ten years ago, ten months ago, ten seconds ago? No. If you had asked me what kind of art I would produce twenty-seven years ago when I started my digital odyssey, I could never have guessed. I look at the imagery and say, like Gauguin, Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Freud took one approach. Biogeneticists take another. X rays, CT scans, studies of telepathy, surgery. Life on the couch. Life under the knife. We are a damn curious lot, we humans. My Mother used to say that artists were insane and it was catching. Well I caught it and caught it bad, whatever "it" is. But then I'm in interesting company: we recently had a President who didn't know what "is" is either.

So the Why of I remains elusive. But I wouldn't want it any other way, would you?

c. Corinne Whitaker 2007