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Everyday sculpture

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SOME artists arrive at their creative destinations by slow, plodding work. Others by a series of tiny intuitive leaps. Still others by hurling themselves past all rules and restrictions. None of these methods, of course, can guarantee success, and none is necessarily the best. Each, however, has served numerous artists well, and has resulted in the production of some excellent work.

Of the three, the last is the most difficult and problematical. For every artist who has made it work -- and they range from Michelangelo and El Greco to Van Gogh, Picasso, and Pollock -- hundreds have failed, or have produced only minimally interesting art.

The temptation to try it, however, is great, especially among younger painters and sculptors impatient to achieve fame and glory and among older artists for whom everything else has failed. For them, the act of figuratively shutting their eyes and following an inner imperative is as much an act of desperation as of faith. That some succeed at all is amazing, and that others succeed time and time again over a long career is very close to miraculous.

Our century has seen a number of examples from Matisse, Mir'o, Giacometti, Gorky, and Guston to a handful of youngsters working today. Only a few are of the highest caliber, and some may be forgotten by the time this century is over, but all have one thing in common: ability to create art by trusting in their instincts.

This trust is not easy to acquire, especially since artists are so often inhibited by rules designed more to package and control creativity than to stimulate or nourish it. No sooner does a genuinely free-spirited painter burst such restrictions to produce work that truly ``sings'' than a cluster of critics and art historians appear to explain and neatly categorize the little miracle that has just occurred. What began as a leap of joy for the artist very quickly becomes a kind of rule-book ``prison'' from which younger artists must, in turn, leap free.

Perhaps that is the way it will always be. Perhaps creativity cannot find its true voice until it has first battled its way clear of the past and of its exponents in the present. I really don't know. That is the way it often works. Many of the ``freest'' artists working today were once profoundly ``locked in'' to an older artist's style and formal ideals.

Ida Kohlmeyer, for instance, is one of the most independent-minded artists working today, and yet she battled for several years earlier in her career to free herself of the influence of not one but two major painters.


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