Creative Evolution

October 12, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Art, Auto-Biography

All my life, I’ve doodled.  On Sundays, my dad would hand out pens and pencils to my sisters and me when we sat down to eat at our local Big Boy or other joint.  We’d draw stuff.  Terry ended up getting a degree in design; mine was in art.  Gale became a bookkeeper.  Maybe we should have given Gale crayons.

Through the 70s I collected a mounting accumulation of scribbles collected from waiter pads, late night stoned sessions, parties, placemats and napkins.  After graduating college and quitting the job working for my dad as the vice president in a girdle and bra factory, I took the money I’d saved and published ten of my illustrations as greeting cards.  I called the company Maplands.  Each card was an island metaphor with images (many former doodles) illustrating an idea.  Several cards explored models of psychological transformation, as if these personal evolutions were journeys through a mapable landscape.

I sold some.  I looked for patterns in what sold best.  Slowly, the themes and images of greeting cards I continued to release evolved toward those themes and images I sold the most.  In that first collection, there was one tiny heart in ten greeting cards.  Within two years, hearts were multiplying across a sizable percentage of maybe fifty greeting cards.  As the line grew, the images kept tilting in the direction of what sold.  Suns, moons, rainbows and hearts proliferated across the line.

Inevitably, I crossed a boundary where what I was producing was not satisfactorily representing what I wanted to say.  The consumer environment encouraged my image evolution in a direction that reflected an established iconic vocabulary.  I lost the desire to speak in that language when I could not connect it with my message.  It was evolutionary dead end.

A little over ten years later, I tried a different evolutionary pathway.  Having established a comic strip first called “Off the Deep End,” later “Lehman,” I played with a number of different concepts in panel and strip format.  Almost 200 publications picked it up, mostly inconsistently.  I wasn’t feeling engaged enough just trying to be wry and funny.  Also, I wasn’t terribly good at it.  I began pushing the boundaries of the medium, chancing being more personal and exploring various philosophical positions in comic format.  When I finished exploring that creativity thread, about a dozen publications were still offering my work in print.  I had reached another evolutionary dead end.

Except that it’s hard to know whom the comics influenced while walking those pathways.  One iconic piece drifted into the popular culture.  Others ended up getting published in other authors’ books.  This one is my favorite.

Noting the influence of the environment on my creative work and on my life, I keep finding relationships between the biological, the social, the ontological and the personal tied together in ways both subtle and vast.  Society encourages us to see evolution as an extremely slow process.  Paying attention to only the effects of natural selection causes dissociation, not only dissociation of the observer from the now, but of the scientific from the spiritual.  Evolution is fully engaged in every moment as the environment constantly informs every individual, every moment, in every decision that we make.

If my father had handed Game Boys to my sisters and me at every Sunday supper, my sisters’ and my lives would have been radically different.  What if we hadn’t gone to restaurants on Sunday night, but had gone to concerts?  Instead of handing us pens and pencils, what if he had passed out paints?


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