“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
– Vincent Van Gogh
Recently, I’ve been revisiting an old love of mine: the art form of collage. Part of the beauty of collage for me is how it pushes back about what it means to be “creative” (or not): some leftover imposed sense of being graded or the need to get art “right”.
Because collage is kind of a hot mess, at least initially: bits of paper, fabric and found objects, pastels, colored pencils, and crayons overflow the lidded box I use to hold my stash. Collage also speaks to important values of mine: recycling, paradox, humor, diversity, and the possibility of change. By nature of it being created in layers, collage is iterative, and can be constantly changed or altered. It’s like archaeology in reverse: putting down layer upon layer, taking old images and making something new from them.
Life is like that too: from a collection of disconnected random bits and bobs, the complete picture is revealed over years as we put down layers. We comprehend the whole only piece by piece, as they are laid down in front of us.
Sometimes as I am working on a collage, a part I really initially wanted to include doesn’t belong anymore, as the nature of the piece is coming together. Sometimes I have to take that part out, putting it back in my stash for another piece.
Other times, what I might have dubbed a mistake turns into something I never could have imagined, even if I was trying to do it consciously.
In art, life, work, and relationships, there’s a gift that comes with accepting and letting go of the parts that no longer fit, as well as the ability to get important information from missteps or elements we don’t anticipate or like.
Even the parts that don’t fit in our life collage – the parts that might be scratchy, irritating, hurtful, or maddening, either in ourselves, in others, in the world – can inform us and help us understand and create the whole. When we can find at least some value in all parts, even in aspects we don’t want or won’t choose to include going forward, we become aware of a broader set of possibilities and a bigger picture. We can see and create new opportunities emerging from old images, patterns, and behaviors.
As humans, we are wired to make meaning from our experiences. As much as I once wished I could create art, writing, social change, or my life quickly, easily, and effortlessly, I now know that the essential iterative nature of life and learning adds, not subtracts. We rarely create anything important immediately, fully formed from scratch. It takes vision, time, persistence, and dedication to create anything new and substantive – in art, writing, projects, relationships, or social change. We can be patient with the process of layering, allowing the parts to shape, morph and transform into something new, even sometimes without overwork or much active participation on our part. We can allow ourselves to be surprised, delighted even, by the outcomes.
Over to you
What’s your creative process – in your work, your life, the art you are making in the world?
How can you embrace the mess, the complexity, the layers, that are inevitable in the meaning making process?
Let me hear from you in the Comments below.
Loved this post?
Then use the icons below to tweet it, share it on Facebook and send it to specific friends via email.
Photo credit: Hanna Cooper