Discover more from Savana Ogburn
On Creativity and Constraints
Some wisdom from David Byrne
Hi everyone <3
Currently I’m working on preproduction for a big shoot happening next week that I’m super excited about—I get to make a bunch of fun props and will have a few friends on set with me. I’m also in the process of remaking my website from scratch (!!!) and generally just doing some metaphorical spring cleaning in my business/art.
join the paid subscriber list! this week I’ll be talking about how I decide which commissions to take on, and which to say “no thank you” to. <3
I wanted to share a bit this month about creative confines. I was recently reading this Salon piece from 2013 in which David Byrne speaks about some of his creative philosophies. This part really resonated with me—
Interviewer: "The accepted narrative," [Byrne] writes, "that the rock and roll singer is driven by desire and demons, and out bursts this amazing, perfectly shaped song that had to be three minutes and 12 seconds. This is the romantic notion of how creative work comes to be, but I think the path of creation is almost 180 degrees from this model."
DB: “…there’s a lot of constraints and considerations and templates that [songwriters] work with – unconscious decisions or constraints put upon them that guide what they're going to do.
Otherwise, why didn’t people in the 14th century start writing full-blown operas with giant orchestras and whatever?” These things just weren’t available to them. Our imaginations are constrained by all these other things -- which is a good thing. There’s kind of a process of evolution that goes on where the creative part of you adapts to whatever circumstances are available to you….So I guess I’m saying that a lot of creative decisions are kind of made for us, and the trick is then working creatively within those constraints.”
This really hung with me after I finished reading. I thought about how for as long as I can remember, I’ve yearned for a house with a yard, or a shed, or an extra room flooded with light that could be all mine. Somewhere I could build sets and leave them up for weeks at a time, practice lighting, make huge messes, the list goes on. There have been times in my life where I’ve had versions of this: when I lived with my parents, I could shoot in the basement and in the garage, and in college, I had 24/7 access to studio space and could rent out any lights or fancy equipment I wanted. When I moved to LA almost a year ago (wowie, a year!), my friend/roommate Kristen and I decided to split a room to use as a studio. We lucked out with a gorgeous lofted area in an apartment with beautiful natural light. It’s small, so it’s great for collage work and computer work, but definitely less suited to shooting photos.
But of course, even with the spoils of bright light and a loft, I still couldn’t shake the WANTING for something bigger and better. A tale as old as time!!!
Recently, I was chipping away at some new work and decided I wanted to make another diorama, similar to this one I made last year. I kept having all of these ideas to make it grander and more detailed–mini cattails! Pop up animals! Faux water! Et cetera–and sooner than later realized that what I was working on felt hyper specific to me and my taste and influences, which was thrilling to me. I’ve never seen collage or pop ups done in this exact way before and I feel like I’ve hit on something really exciting for me (if it exists, DO NOT SHOW ME!!!!!).
I can’t remember exactly what spurred this thought, but I essentially realized that all of my yearning for a bigger space might have been for naught–while I was wasting all of this time thinking, hoping, wishing, that I could have a bigger space that would suit some hypothetical situation in which I need to build something giant, I was completely overlooking something really good that was right under my nose. It’s no problem to make miniatures in a small space, because they’re f*cking small!!!!!
I realized that I, once again, had based what I thought I needed on what I believe other artists have. Tim Walker always built giant sets! Wayne White builds giant puppets in his studio! So and so can make messes and no one cares if they clean it up or not! But I’m not Tim Walker or Wayne White or whoever else! The truth is that I’m at a point in my life where a huge amount of space dedicated to me building giant sets just isn’t feasible, and sitting here dreaming about making some future fantasy work is a complete and total waste of my time because it keeps me from making the work that’s specific to my circumstances at this very moment. The work that I need to be making has been right under my nose this whole time–I was just too blind to see it.
I think the moral of the story is this: when you put aside the idea that a photograph (or a collage or painting etc) has to look like one specific thing, and has to be made in one specific way, you lose out on all of the other possibilities of what your art can be. And you risk completely overlooking a unique solution that’s right in front of you, like I did! And probably have a million times before now, too.
I was thinking about how one of my favorite artists, Howard Finster, had scraps of wood and a big backyard, so he painted on the wood scraps and turned the yard into a sculpture garden. It’s almost comical to think about him saying, “actually I don’t have expensive oil paints and canvas, and no one will show my work in museums, so I’m actually not going to make anything at all.” That would have been a f*cking TRAVESTY and a waste of his unique perspective synthesized in a way that was totally unique to him and his circumstances. All I’m saying is that there’s a time for everything, and I think it’s important to be present where you are now and make the work that’s specific to you and what you have available, rather than trying to finesse your process into something that it’s just not. Because that will make the most interesting, creative, and unique work for YOU.
A final moment from the David Byrne interview:
Interviewer: “…genius appears when [the song] is perfectly suited to its context.”
DB: To me, yeah – that’s where the skill lies. Making those adaptations and making that work, and not just standing up and saying, “I must have 1,000 tubas!”
(Just saying, if there’s an ultra generous patron of the arts out there who would like to provide me with a big beautiful studio space free of charge, then we can just consider this whole newsletter moot!!!! give me my 10,000 tubas, please!!!)
Ok, stepping off my soapbox now to say THANK YOU so much for being here and for reading. As always, if you have any suggestions for future topics or just want to say hi, please do reply to this email. I love hearing from y’all.
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