The Creative Urge #1: Creativity

Living in the next village from me is an artist, Gérard Larguier. His work is quite collectable, but I know him because I've fixed his computer a few times.

Gérard's work is special and personal for me, since it helps me to think about what is, for me, the main problem with talking about stories, and with creative art in general.

memory fresco of Soulaines Dhuys
This is because Gérard does not invent, he relates. What he makes is undoubtedly art, but his graphic art is like a story. His technique is part collage, part sculpture, part painting, and it achieves the same sense of varying textures across a limited but continuous palate that you get from staring at the landscape here in rural north-east France. 

What makes it story-like is that Gérard shows the connexion between what he sees and what he depicts, by literally including what he sees in his works. He takes photographs, or uses images from books, magazines, newspapers, prints them, and then photocopies them, often moving the original across the platen to produce ramdomly distorted copies. These copies he then tears, carefully, until they include exactly the image or fragment of image that he wants.

The inset image is Gérard working on a fresco prepared for the village of Soulaines Dhuys. This is composed of photographs taken by Gérard himself, as well as archive photos, newspaper clippings and texts from the village archives. The fresco is 4-5 metres wide, and all across the top is a panorama of the horizon around the village, but a panorama as you might recall it from memory or picture it if someone described it to you; the dominant features of the landscape are repeated from a number of different angles. Within the image are views of village landmarks, again repeated both at different angles and in different times, and all is jumbled up like a memory, but organized like a memory; associative, repetitive, disproportionate.

All of Gérard's work is like this; it's language is of images recalled and repeated, broken down and reassembled. Many artists are influenced or inspired by other artists, but when Gérard is thus inspired or influenced, he shows it by including fragments of a distorted photocopy of the work that inspired him in his own work.

Gérard's choice of medium and technique reveals his creative process, reveals his inspiration, reveals (to some extent) his purpose. And because his works are large, detailed, intricate, full of repetition, their composition is like a rambling prose; series of small works like collections of thematically related short stories; medium scale one-offs that are like angry letters of protest, prose poems, eulogies, anecdotes.

Over the years that he has developed his technique, Gérard has developed a prodigious skill not only at composition—the artist's eye—but also at photocopying, tearing paper, matching paint colours to print colours so that all the images blend together—the artist's hands. 

We who write are perhaps dimly aware or starkly aware that we are regurgitating words, phrases, imagery, themes, anything up to entire characters and plots, that we have collected through our reading, our daily lives, discussions and conversations, visual media, the theatre, the cinema, the television.

But our culture gives us the impression that art is a matter of great creative ideas; originality; novelty. So we learn to think of our choice of words as being part of our skill, not of our creativity. I think this is a mistake, and one that arises from too great importance given to novelty and originality. I think that all artistic creation is re-expression. If we were perfectly original, we would be perfectly incomprehensible. Gérard's art works because it is an expression of the artist's culture; it isn't unique; it is perfected.

What Gérard does is what writers should do. Begin with a purpose: some idea to express. Select a means of communicating it through a medium that is as accessible as possible. Practice and perfect the means and the medium.

Great creativity is as much in the stroke of the brush or the pen, as it is in the choice of composition or the structure of the story. The writer's brush strokes are his choice of words, the composition of his phrases, the quality of his imagery, the matching of symbol and theme, the harmony of message and medium.

Great creativity is as much a skillfull re-telling of an old story as it is the creation of a new story.

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