For years now, probably since the mid-1960s, “creativity” has been a grounding concept for artists and craftsmen in America. It has been a lifesaver for people who couldn’t otherwise justify their production of toilet-paper cozies or macramé Christmas-tree ornaments; and it has also been the justification for a great quantity of art that shouldn’t have been produced. I’ve had a couple of experiences lately to remind me that true creativity is a rare and redeeming quality which by itself is easily subverted. We who call ourselves artists can readily fall into the trap of assuming that whatever we do is creative, and therefore is art (Kurt Schwitters, eighty-odd years ago, defined “art” as “Whatever an artist spits;” he was wrong, or at least shortsighted).
Indeed, a succession of monthly solo shows at Washington Printmakers Gallery, and the current exhibition (A Century on Paper: Prints by Art Students League Artists) at the Mitchell Gallery of St Johns College in Annapolis, have served to reinforce my opinion, that creativity isn’t very common, and has to be joined with other qualities if it’s not to be cheapened.
Those other qualities include (1) intelligence, (2) sensitivity, (3) skill, and (4) revision. It might be too late for us to do much about intelligence, and it could be that sensitivity is more predetermined than we might wish. But when I look at artworks—especially prints–that excite me, it’s almost predictable that I’ll find evidence of forethought and great skill, coupled with evidence that the artist didn’t settle for the first expression of her idea, but worked and reworked the image until it satisfied its own requirements—until it became more than was apparent in its first expression.
In that regard, I urge you to visit the Impossible Tourist exhibition of works on paper by member artist Fleming Jeffries, at Washington Printmakers Gallery. Ms Jeffries has combined her creativity with all of the qualities I mentioned above, together with a lot of hard work, to present a show that is interesting on many levels. It challenges our perceptions, our aesthetics, and our intelligence.
This is only the most recent of a number of worthwhile shows at Washington Printmakers Gallery in recent months. Ellen Verdon Winkler, Barbara Bickley Stephens, Joseph Holston, Helen Frederick, and Deron DeCesare, in the months preceding Fleming Jeffires’ show, have presented work that was both creative and not superficial. I hope you had opportunities to view their exhibitions.