House of Cards

House of Cards, mixed media collage, 2021

I’ve spent time over the past several days working with Victorian cabinet cards and found photographs. What I like most about this particular medium (aside from the fact that it’s inherently playful and fun) is the challenge. If you’re familiar with cabinet cards, you know they are Victorian-era photographs mounted on thick cardboard. Likewise, photographs from the same time period—those I’ve been working with—were often transformed into post cards. Which means they can’t be cut. I can only add to cabinet cards and post cards. I can’t take anything away.

And that’s a limitation I find to be rather pleasant. It refreshes my perspective to work differently on occasion. Adds a bit of new life—a jolt—to my collage practice. Indeed, I find that limits not only enhance my creativity, but generally speaking, are necessary for creativity (a topic I’ve written about before).

Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art or poem. 

Rollo May

Indeed, it is my experience that preconceptions are spontaneity killers. And if what May says is true—and I believe it is—both conditions of spontaneity and limitation must be satisfied in order for creative activity to take place. To my mind, it is spontaneity that makes creativity feel so liberating. The feeling of opening oneself to possibility. To release the rational mind, the ego-mind, and her desires for awhile.

It’s Not What You’re Thinking, mixed media collage, 2022

But there is, I would propose, another component to the creativity equation. (To be sure, there are several, but for the purposes of this brief discussion, I’d like to focus on one.) And that’s love. The spontaneous overflow of emotion. 

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.

William Wordsworth

When we allow our rational minds, our preconceptions, our ego-minds to rest, it is my experience that that which our souls most desire to say—that which needs to be said—is said anyway. And often so much better than if we had not relinquished control, not given ourselves over to spontaneous action.

It is also my experience (and I’ve written about this recently) that the emotional overflow at the heart of creativity is love. Sometimes when I sit down to create, I am cognizant that I’m channeling emotions from elsewhere in my life—from circumstances, people, events—and feeling a subsequent need for release. And sometimes I don’t feel that way. Regardless of what’s happening in my emotional life, love always precedes creativity. Very often these are feelings of love kindled by an image, a subject, a set of materials. And I feel so moved that I set about destroying them in order to make their souls visible. To make the materials sing. To at once recreate them as I see them and to see them anew.

Creativity is the love of something, having so much love for something whether a person, a word, an image, an idea, a land or humanity that all that can be done with the overflow is to create. It is not a matter of wanting to, not a singular act of will, one solely must.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés

What I think: love makes spontaneity possible. When our emotions are high, we see differently. I am, perhaps, more apt to fall in love with a stranger’s face in an old photograph when I am already emotional. (Although, I do believe this sometimes happens on its own.) And it is this overflow of emotion—this love—that makes spontaneity not only possible but likely. Love is a catalyst for spontaneity, if you will. That which creates a shift in consciousness, a kind of creative ecstasy. That makes the materials come alive, that makes their souls visible.

It’s All We’ve Ever Known, mixed media collage, 2021

I hope this post doesn’t come across as disorganized. I had initially intended to share my artwork along with, perhaps, a paragraph or two of commentary, and ended up with nearly 800 words. I considered revising and reorganizing, but I decided to keep my thoughts in a “raw” state instead. As I wrote them initially, to preserve something of their spontaneity, I suppose. 

Prints for all of the artwork above are available in my Etsy shop.

7 responses to “House of Cards”

  1. Again, wonderful entry..I love the things you said about spontaneity and limits and the balancing between the two that “makes their souls visible”..and further, as you so perfectly stated, “love makes spontaneity possible” as it rides down a perfectly balanced river of limitations. And I honestly believe what draws humanity so much to art, poetry, creativity is that we not only long to see the soul of every living thing, we long to see and feel the love and connection to that soul. Science and limiting river banks is necessary for life, for creation…but is the poetry of things, the soul of things, the love of things that give us the reason to live and the meaning we are always searching for.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beautifully said, my friend. And I couldn’t agree more—we long for a sense of connection with something greater—and we often get a sense of that in art, poetry, that which gives us a glimpse into the essence of all living things. I often think that of photography, too. Although I am very much a novice, I always hope that whenever I photograph a bird or other creature, I am able to capture something of the soul in them. At least, that is a goal I’m working toward. Also, I like that you refer to science as a kind of limitation—that’s a very interesting way of looking at it—and I think you have something there. I sometimes feel that scientists ask the wrong questions. That some of what they spend their time researching should be common sense, or that which we should already know to be intuitively true. Anyway, I have the utmost respect for the scientific method, but it has its place, and I think we sometimes forget that.


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