Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Making Ideas

A few years back I found myself in a lively conversation with a noted west coast photographer and author during a summer program at an equally noted east coast art and craft school where we were both teaching. She maintained that ideas were the most important aspect of art. I took a different view. I said ideas were cheap and easy to come by, it’s what you do with them that matters, and I subscribed to the notion that only the idea manifested has any value.

Where Ideas Come From: You make them in your Head

Needless to say it was a very lively conversation. I don’t mean to diminish the importance of concept in artwork at all; I think it’s highly important. But for me, in artwork, it’s the “work” that makes it. Among professional artists it’s virtually a maxim that work makes work. Working on an idea generates ideas for new work.

Writer Neil Gaiman* in an essay about where ideas come from, suggests asking the questions “what if?” and its variations (I wonder...? and wouldn’t it be interesting...?) to generate ideas. These are questions as progenitors.

So ask questions, lots of questions.

The whole world is a source for ideas but you have to pay attention. You have to notice what you notice. And then you have to act on it; write it down, draw it, speak it, record it, photograph it, build it, make something. Otherwise, as humorist Arnold Glasow said, “Ideas not coupled with action never become bigger than the brain cells they occupied.”

*for a great commencement speech by Gaiman go here.


  1. You're in good company here, Ken. Picasso said "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."

  2. Thanks Suzanne, that's a great quote. A related one I've often used is from Thomas Edison: Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. In either case, it's doing that gets it done.

  3. Ken,
    I agree. Ideas are fantasy until they take form and substance. Stories are told: some transmitted orally to the minds of others; some are written in books for others to discover. Some ideas become roads, homes, tools, and many other wonderful artifacts of the human hand. One could say;

    Ideas + action = reality.

    Don Bova