Friday, May 20

Artistry in Adversity

We could all manage to learn something from the victorian artist John Atkinson Grimshaw. 

Although not the most famous painter in today's contemporary galleries, he's still immensely popular, and there are both artistic and non-artistic reasons for that.

Perhaps surprisingly, it's not the content of his artwork which I find the most creative:  Far more inspiring for me are his techniques and styles, and far more interesting are the reasons why he adopted them:

It was not well known in his day that in fact he was heavily indebted, and his prolific output was due to force of circumstance more than addictive habit.  Jane Sellars, curator of the Mercer gallery in Harrogate, said in a recent edition of the Guradian newspaper that "He painted to pay bills, painted keep his family together, and painted in lieu of rent on his palatial homes."

His parents tried to stymie his career as an artist, even resorting to throwing-away his materials. 

It's often said that most of our best inventions come in times of war.  The list ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, including radar, synthetic rubber, the jet engine, and even tampons and the "Slinky"!

It seems that adversity drove Grimshaw to innovate too.  To keep afloat financially, he invented an exceptionally quick-drying varnish, learnt to create powerful effects with the minimum amount of paint, and often resorted to painting rainy streets for which a smaller palette would be needed.

This is all very interesting, because we're often told by the experts that workers reach ideas much more effectively when they're given the time, space and resources to play around.

But perhaps we also need a problem to focus on.  And if our problems are insufficient time, space and resources, all may not be lost for the creative thinker.

So perhaps it's back to my favourite theme of variety:  Sometimes we need too much, and sometimes too little.  The important thing is to move the chairs around, ring the changes, fire the synapses ... then harvest the ideas.

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