Welcome to the final installment of this six–part series! In Parts 1–4, we explored some aspects of our hardwiring that can interfere with our artistic growth. In Part 1 we perused our perception, and how it influences our interpretation of reality. In Part 2, we discussed three ways to improve our perception to infuse more reality into our clay. In Part 3, we contemplated how fear can cause our perception to entrench, often bringing with it unwelcome outcomes. Then in Part 4, we considered our pattern recognition response and how it works in tandem with our perception to create patterns in our expression of form and structure. In Part 5, we discussed how our brain fills–in for us, and how that can lead to trouble.
Now in this final installment to this series, we’ll wrap up with some additional thoughts regarding all this to leave some more room for reflection, proverbial biscuits to go with our tea–serving, long–eared buddy.
Because along the way, a friendly metaphor pulled from Alice In Wonderland, the White Rabbit, has served as our fluffy guide, and he’s generous with tea to boot! So let’s get started…
THE BUNNY’S FINAL SAY
Realistic equine sculpture requires a fair bit of precision–oriented traits paired with a degree of focus that borders on obsessive compulsive, it’s true. For this reason it tends to attract a peculiar kind of mind that flourishes within the disciplined nature of the task at hand, but one that also enjoys discovering all the variations on a theme as well.
In this sense then, sculpting equine realism is a kind of artistic card game where the most basic rules are the same, but each game is different. And like all compelling card games, this one has entertaining twists and turns that keep it fresh and fun. The thing to remember about these rules though, is that they’re living rules, so our approach cannot depend too much on static ones.
The Sisyphean dilemma we face—because we’ll never get things 100% accurate—reaffirms that the more meaningful truths are found in the doing. It also reminds us that everyone starts as a beginner. Hey, let's face it—starting in this art form feels a bit like smacking one's head on a wall! That's not to say beginners aren't capable, but to say that realistic equine sculpture really is that complicated. The equine form is a convoluted, multi–layered, variable, integrated subject that demands an uncommon depth of interdisciplinary insight and application. What's more, science is revealing the true nature of equine physiology, so all the information we already know has to evolve to keep pace. We stand on sand, not rock.
So while the creative process can be deconstructed into bite–sized building blocks for instruction, the full scope of equine realism keeps even the most experienced artists busy for good reason. Yet it's not the concepts themselves that are inaccessible. When we fail to grasp them, it's not because we lack talent or intelligence. Throughout my involvement in this art form, I now realize the real obstacle isn't actually the subject matter. It's also not technique, media, or teaching method per se. It's not a lack of experience, instruction, or information either. These are just side effects. Incidentals.
Instead, I've found that we all tend to encounter the very same obstacles because we’re all homo sapien. It’s what’s going on inside our human heads that really matters. Even more curious, too, these shared challenges remain throughout our career, regardless of our skill levels, backgrounds, compositions, or goals. They don't disappear entirely, they just evolve with us because they're wrapped up in what we are.
What the heck does that even mean?
Well, when we're having a problem sculpting eyes, for example, are we really having a problem sculpting eyes? Or is there something deeper inhibiting us enough—and so under our radar—that’s causing the problem? If that's so, what's this common denominator?
Our human brains.
Shared obstacles to understanding exist because we share the same species classification—human. That means each of us will come to these very same problems and wrestle with the very same hardwiring, and isn't that a handy thing? Why? Well, it means we can share our experiences and have a common ground to do so. Being able to have this shared struggle isn't only personally helpful then, but it also keeps the art form from becoming stagnant, solitary, and cold. In other words, it means the more we share, the more we all learn!
This idea can also keep us centered and gentle with each other, especially ourselves. Advanced artists can recognize the struggles of beginners since they themselves have tumbled with the very same hiccups, albeit in their own individual ways. And in becoming empathetic in this way, perhaps we become more empathetic with our subject, a creature with a wholly different evolutionary biology.
Because our shared hardwired circuits may have developed through our shared evolution to help us survive and prosper, but these very same mechanisms can get in the way of crafting believable realism. That is to say our hardwired way of perceiving the world can impede our way of Seeing the world of another, whether human or horse.
Since our brains deliberately skew reality in order for us to function on a kind of autopilot, this allows us to process all the complexity of our lives without having to focus on every tiny detail that could mire us down. Can you imagine trying to type out a email message while also having to constantly rethink the alphabet? So our autopilot isn't all bad! It's thanks to the tasks equine realism ask of us that it can become a problem, and so only those who learn to dampen and manipulate it at will achieve new depths of understanding about themselves, the craft, the subject, each other, and in so doing can take their art, and the art itself, to the next level.
THE BUNNY’S CHALLENGE
It also means this: since our creative obstacles in realism lie in our nurture and our nature, our innate talent, training, experience, and research can only take us so far on their own.
But why? If realism is simply mimicking what we see, shouldn't we be getting things pretty close to convincing right out of the gate? Reality is reality, isn't it?
No. We've explored some reasons why throughout this series, but another bit lies in this fact: each of us will glean different things from different sources while, at the same time, different sources will help each of us in different ways. We've all probably encountered a situation where we gained nothing enlightening from a shared experience whereas a colleague found it to be a revelation. The tip–off is not wondering why we should gain different insights from the same circumstance, but in wondering why this same circumstance is different for each of us. And that deserves respect.
Our shared evolutionary hardwiring is so dominant indeed that it automatically influences all that we are and do. So while we do have a shared experience, each of our experiences will be different, as unique as each of us. That also means we come to our clay pre–fitted with custom–made blind spots and distinctive strengths, even before we attempt our sculpture. What's more, our hiccups and strengths evolve with us as our skills and goals evolve, which is why our work remains distinctive throughout our careers.
We now come to another important point: our perception reevaluates each moment as a new moment; it's continually processing each fleeting second anew. Therefore, we cannot assume that once we process some tidbit of information that it will remain so throughout the rest of our endeavors. In fact, this "new moment" effect can cause our progressive skews and accumulating blindspots. Each new stroke of our tool is merely the new baseline for another tool stroke, one building upon the other until we have an amalgamation of positives, negatives or neutrals in our sculpture. Therefore, we must regain control with each new tool stroke, moment by moment, and that creating convincing realism is as much a discipline as it is an inspiration. In many ways then, reattaining this new control with each stroke is much like the horse having to regain his self–carriage with each new step! It takes inducement, training, and diligence.
This effect also compromises what we absorb from each new learning opportunity. For instance, blaming a learning situation as poorly designed because we gained little perceived gain is a bit of a trap, isn't it? Because how do we really know? We only know what our perception tells us, and if that's running on autopilot, then anything this autopilot cannot process won't be absorbed well enough. More times than not, the learning experience wasn’t at fault, it was a runaway autopilot that was unable to process new information adequately. And so if we're left disappointed, discouraged, frustrated, and even a bit confused as to why our experience fizzled out, it may be smart to approach the issue from another angle. There's no need to be suspicious of learning experiences altogether.
If we take anything away from this series then, it should be a keen understanding of this one idea: it's ultimately counter–productive to conclude, ”I already know this or that," in any given moment. Do we know how much of our work was created on autopilot as compared to an active creative consciousness? How much of our portfolio is a product of unconscious formula rather than self-directed evolution? Do we even know how to make these distinctions?
In the same way, it’s hoped this series helps to illuminate the profound difference between what we think we know compared to what there is to actually know because a gigantic cognitive chasm separates the two. If we create our work without an incisive creative consciousness, our blind spots and knowledge gaps won't only persist in this schism, they'll compound and proliferate there, too. Therefore, any effort to redirect our course will get sabotaged by this expanse as well, and without us ever recognizing the real problem at hand.
So rather than becoming empowered, flexible and evolving, we sink into increasing resistance, rigidity, and habitual conventions. This predicament is avoidable and changeable—we just need to know the how and why, in the most meaningful ways.
SOUNDS GREAT, MR. BUNNY, BUT NOW WHAT?
To turn our momentum into something self–sustaining, we need to recognize our true challenge. It's not necessarily mastery of method, media or design, it's not entirely fluency in science, studies, or research, and it's not just years of experience, success or even the amount of training. These are essential—yes—but they're not the means, they're only the ends. Our real challenge lies inside our heads within the ages–old hardwiring that guides our every moment. Learn to master it and we mediate its tendency to trip us in each moment of creativity.
Developing a creative consciousness just takes is a bit of proper guidance, gumption and openness for it to naturally blossom, and anyone of any skill level can achieve and sustain this beneficial state of mind given the motivation. And what's interesting is that once our perception learns to work with us, we change, too. And we can do it, and we can learn how to do it on our own. We can even learn how to design our own custom-made artistic exercises to keep our creative consciousness engaged and fluid. It's fun to discover what we’re truly capable of creating once we do!
Yet this mental component to realism is often glossed over in the greater arts community perhaps because many other art forms don't need the biological precision that always begs the question, "What is actual reality vs perceived reality?” Conventional modes of learning also carry with it the benign hope that what worked for one person may work for others. And granted, this is often the case, but not all the time. At various stages in our development, we'll come up against hurdles that only self–actualized progress can help us get over. The more advanced we get, too, we discover it's not what we come to know, but how and why we come to know it.
This isn’t to say instruction isn’t beneficial—it most certainly is! But there’s homework we could be doing to kick our progress into hyperdrive—and keep it there. This path relies on placing our sights squarely on our perception, our fear, our pattern recognition response, and our brain's propensity to fill–in, and then designing our own exercises, self–critiques and goals that specifically challenge them to See deeper.
Understanding and controlling these automatic trip–circuits can lead to insights so pivotal, it could be said true growth cannot be achieved otherwise. If we step back and really observe master sculptors at work, we realize they don't govern their hands—they govern their brains. The hand is merely an extension, and it will go where the brain goes. That means our final obstacle in realism isn't a practical challenge—it's a psychological one.
"It is essential for me to become involved in another search, and 'search' is the proper word to use because it promises discovery along with the risk."
~ Abe Ajay
On the flip side, it's why some people appear to have a natural talent when, in fact, all they're doing is operating further beyond their hardwiring—and that's something we can do, too. It’s also why each of us come to our craft equipped with different talents, techniques, and viewpoints, and why sharing knowledge and helping each other is so important. The more brains that work a problem, the faster and more creatively we find new pathways.
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”
Along those lines then, it's no coincidence that the most effective instruction is designed with these trip–circuits in mind to allow our brains a more intuitive grasp of the lesson. (The workshops hosted by Laf'nBear LLC are an excellent example of such a scenario.)
WE FINISHED THE WHOLE POT!
So there it is—the whole Bunny Secret of perception. We have to figure out our own reality before we can authentically crawl into that of our subject. It’s not easy, for sure, but well worth the effort. And who knows what that bunny will reveal to each of us, but whatever it is, it has the potential to take our work to unimagined levels and exciting routes of expression.
Don’t be so afraid to rummage around inside your psyche—you can create amazing realism if you’re willing to take the leap. Developing a more trustworthy perception is really the gist of getting our sculptures to be more correct and meaningful, and in the pursuit of that, our subject gifts us with many blessings, each unique to each of us.
So while you’re working away in your studio, chase that bunny! Can you hear him giggling? He enjoys a good game of tag!
“Art, because it’s so easy to do, and yet so difficult to do well, encourages humility in the human soul.”
~ Robert Genn
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