I’ve dared to think and act without the help of an ideology: I’ve nothing to help me, no idea that I adhere to and in exchange for what I’m told what to do, no rules for dictating the “how”, no belief to point the way, no vision of the future, no framework conferring a deeper meaning.
Gerhard Richter (1932 – )
Considering the five-decade oeuvre of this significantly important German painter, Richter’s words intrigue me. Finding one’s creative way with no compass, no guidelines, no referencing framework with no particular future objective to work towards, is no small feat. Yet, reflecting on the sustainability of Richter’s artwork over what most artists would consider a significant period of time, I find myself questioning how his creative navigation has remained so on track?
I recently came across the work of the choreographer Donna Sternberg, who was selected to be part of the Djerassi Residents Artists Program from 1 – 30 July 2014. In her blog on Leonardo, she writes about getting physically lost whilst taking a walk. Sternberg then relates the physical knowingness of being lost to the experience of being lost creatively:
As an artist I am often lost, not knowing in the middle or even beginning of a piece where I’m going. Usually I trust the process and just plug on, letting whatever comes out come. I’ve learned to let go of trying to steer a project in the direction I think I want it to go and let it instead just go. That’s when it works the best. I’m not always successful, but I can see the wisdom in it and try to let it direct me.
Sternberg makes the wise decision to allow the creative process to direct her. This skill – or decision if you like – reminds me of what it’s like being pulled out to sea by a strong current. It is almost natural instinct to fight back by doing something / anything, but the wisest decision at that point is simply to let go.The only option that exists in such a situation is the belief that the tide will bring you back. In a conversation that took place between Gerhard Richter and Nicholas Serota in 2011, Serota pertinently asks about Richter’s belief system, to which Richter answers:
I believe that you always have to believe. It’s the only way …
For me, these few words are simply monumental. Ultimately, it is the belief in belief itself that allows creativity to unfold, perhaps more so when being lost.