By Tanya Wilkinson March 11, 2013
On the Kowloon peninsula, which is a part of Hong Kong, there is, or was when I last visited, a night market several blocks long, consisting of wood and canvas booths leaning against the bottom stories of tall concrete office buildings. I have not been to Hong Kong for almost 25 years but I have visited that night market in my dreams. In one dream a very old woman started pestering me to buy a wooden figurine, an image of Ganesh, the elephant-headed God of beginnings and remover of obstacles. Although I normally dislike such figurines I was attracted to this one and bought it. As she handed it to me the woman said "Each work of art has three kinds of Chi-the Chi of the image, which is inspired, the Chi of the material, which is stronger if it is from nature, and the Chi of the artist's hand." I am no student of philosophy, Eastern or Western, and my conscious understanding of Chi is minimal. My unconscious, however, had something on its mind about the mystery of making art.
As an artist I often think that the process of art-making should be clearer to me than it is. As an academic and a psychotherapist I definitely think that I should be able to explain that process. And yet I can come up with nothing more effective than the old woman's statement. Images come to me that I feel compelled to make into objects. Where do the images come from? Once I begin making an art work why does it start to transform itself, shaping me when I am trying so hard to shape it? How can it be that my materials have a life of their own, one that I have to respect? Why does my medium resist me? How is it that my hands can accomplish things that surprise me and then fail at things I expect to be easy?
I cannot answer these questions in any definitive way so, perhaps out of a spirit of perversity, I decided to gather more dreams from artists, to dive more deeply into these things about art that mystify me and try to write a book. In my previous books I started writing with confidence, sure that I knew my subject. That turned out to be an illusion, of course, but it was a useful illusion. Now I am about half way through my book on artist's dreams. I have found out some wonderful things from the dreams other artists gave me to work with but the big mysteries about making art are still pretty mysterious. Perhaps more will be revealed before the end. I call my book "Joy in the Making."
Thumbnail photo: "girl in a box," mixed media sculpture by Tanya Wilkinson