Exploring the Mind and Creativity

Was it Camus who said artists recreate four or five experiences one had as a child? I thought about this listening to Bruce Carter’s WVIK radio interview with Mississippi River artist, Nancy Purington. I heard her say, “Yes, growing up in Princeton, Iowa–a town of 250 at that time in the mid 1940’s–there was nothing to do. The only stimulation was the river.” She is sure her parents took her for walks by the river at night; nights when the light from a full moon shone on the water and that as a baby attracted to light, she absorbed its aesthetics. It became one of her four or five primal experiences. “Moonlight on the Mississippi” became the name of many of Nancy Purington’s works: watercolors, paintings, gouache, pastels, and digital photography.

But, when I picked up an art catalogue on my way out of the Dubuque Museum of Art on July 31st, it was the catalogue’s cover of ice and snow, and the words NANCY PURINGTON/TWELVE VIEWS OF WATER that first drew me in. Winter! Water, 12 Views! Interesting. Who is this Nancy Purington?

2004, ICE SNOW IKAT, gouache on paper 6” X 8.75”
A small gouache painting, observation of a Mississippi River scene of white snow on indigo colored ice shaped into this zig-zag water design patterned by the wind.

It wasn’t until the morning after I woke up in my own bed at home in Lawrence, Kansas, and reached for the catalogue that I got to Purington’s Moonlight on the Mississippi series. Spring, summer, fall.

2007, MOONLIGHT ON THE MISSISSIPPI, digital photographic print, 22” X 28”
Photographic capture of the full moon inscribing its name on the indigo waters of the river.

Something was kicking in for me about my own childhood memories of water. Here’s one: Moonlight beaming on black water at midnight in summertime in Norway. The light created a luminous path across the Skagerrak. So mysterious, so enticing, so beautiful. As a child, it made me want to be the water touched by that magical light.

No need for my meditation book that morning. I became what Nancy Purington caught fly-fishing with her digital camera:

… the flecks of gold shining on the water

…the wavy lines of gold and azure

…the churning granite waves

…point, line, curve

…Lake MacBride with diamonds

…infinity in

These shots caught on the fly brought Purington home to visions of the Mississippi she had absorbed all along as a child. The Mississippi became her great teacher then and now. From this base, she recreated with formal training and a lifetime of developing her work as an artist what she experienced primordially living on the Mississippi River. TWELVE VIEWS OF WATER touring exhibit, gives to the world in various forms of art “the continuation and culmination of thousands of hours of living, observing, tasting, smelling, dreaming and otherwise being touched by the Mississippi River.” (Barbara Christensen, Director, Muscatine Art Center)

Purington’s work nourishes my mind and creativity. It is an intellectual and seeming kinesthetic exploration that offers what it knows, leaving room for what you know to find balance and harmony with it.

I can be all her different shapes in “Flotsam & Jetsam.” I can be her little warning triangle in “M.M.5,” her waves in “New Wave,” her fiery rectangles glowing from underneath folding sheets of indigo blue in “Prelude (in the dark).”

Nancy Purington’s Twelve Views of Water invites you in.

A few highlights from Nancy Purington’s Artist Vitae: Kansas City Art Institute BFA Painting, Nelson Atkins Group Invitational: The Pleasure of Pattern 1987; Jeune Peinture 39e, Grand Palais Paris 1988; J.P. Morgan Library, research access 2001; Major Iowa Artist Grant, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs 2006; Launch of Twelve Views of Water touring exhibition, 2009: Muscatine Art Center, Waterloo Center for the Arts, Clear Lake Art Center, Dubuque Art Museum.
For more information on this artist, go to nancylpurington.com

Three Steps to Creativity

Observing three-year old children in free play as part of my first teaching job opened the magic of their imaginations to me. I noticed they

  • Choose what interests them
  • Use what’s available to create (including the teacher and other kids)
  • Take risks to figure things out

After using all their vitality and resources, they need a nap.

Four years later, the principal of my new school, Hunter College Elementary School, suggested I devise my own way of teaching my gifted four-year olds to read.

What interests four year olds most?

Self/family/home. Five year olds? Machines, snakes, caterpillars, boats, kites. What better way to learn to read than to make a book? The kids started with a word like me. They wrote out the word and drew a picture of me above it. Next, Mom, Dad, brother Joe, sister Kate. Pretty soon, they had a bunch of pages, which became their first homemade book and…they could read it! Book two was another self-made book about what interested them the most. From there to picture books.

Lesson 1: Spend your creative energy on things that fascinate you.
I put this plan for creativity to use myself when, two years later I sat down with a legal pad and a pencil at my desk facing the Delaware River ten months after my son was born and wrote the words: gifted, or just your average weirdo? These last six words became a book. The question I was trying to answer was: Do gifted children learn differently from other children? My observations had taught me that if gifted children are forced to conform in their learning, the result could be disastrous. Some children go overboard and take on the identity of a troublemaker becoming a behavior problem.

According to psychologist and educator of gifted and talented children, Joseph Renzulli, the highest level of learning is when “the learner assumes the role of the first hand inquirer, the student thinking, feeling and acting like a practicing professional.” This is why writing a book to learn to read worked.
“I am an author and artist. I can write, draw,” the gifted four-year olds at Hunter said to themselves. “I want to know the words I’ve written. If I know them, I’ll be able to read my very own book!”

Lesson 2: Design something that gives you a product.
The word DESIGN fascinates me. Like the Kindergartener building a fort, the designer joins his imagination and knowledge to create something for himself, but that others can see and use. “I designed an energy efficient city,” an eighth grader said. I designed the set for a play,” a ninth grader said. How can the designers ever forget how they have used their minds, if the process to get to product was so energizing, so thrilling? The designers also had to deal with ideas that did not work, before they came up with the ones that did. They learned to handle frustration because they were invested in “seeing” their product, and having others “see” it. Have you ever watched a kid build a structure from blocks only to knock it down, and start all over again?

Lesson 3: Understand your failures build your success.

After using all your energy and resources, take a break.