What a renaissance the Art Journal has seen in the recent few years! No longer only the private (& possibly bored) sketches of suppressed Victorian women, or the deliberate majestical sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci genius types -- we now have blog, website, on-line class and workshop access to such as Danny Gregory, Julie Prichard, Kelly Kilmer and Juliana Coles. These artists teach everything from sketching as daily practice to background preparation via paint or collage techniques to deep self-exploration through the combination of words, visual imagery and specific ephemera.
Four years ago, after thirty years of diligent and mostly happy written journaling, I reached a point of stagnation, a sense of severe statis, in my writing. A work associate and friend suggested rubber stamps as a first step to incorporating the visual aspect I sought in my journals. From there, I launched -- to paint, collaging, mixed media canvases, a delightful first attempt at sewing (a Picasso-esque cat for my brother), assemblage, and a comically entertaining (but definitely failed) foray into soldering. I participated in swaps, round robins, challenges. I crafted ATC's, altered books and swimming pool filters, created pieces or canvases prompted by an inspiration photo or object, and I began to visually embellish all my written journal pages. Backgrounds abounded, complete with tags, pockets, photos, ephemera, brads, ribbons, rub-ons and security envelope parts. I also began a visual journal during this time.
I continued, though, to maintain my written journal, and discovered myself feeling EXASPERATED by the intrusion of the visual elements. My journaling took on all the fluidity of a football game -- start, stop, whistle, huddle, FLAG! punt, tackle, stop, time out! My years'-long favorite cheezo Bic pen didn't take to gesso or acrylic paint. My thoughtflow retreated, frustrated and interrupted by the cramped spaces of tags and inserts, or small clear areas available for writing. Actual writing. Because for me, it was and remains ALL ABOUT THE WORDS. The message, feeling or theme of my visual backgrounds rarely connected in any way to the current thoughts in my mind, and that jarred me. The space taken up by stuff left my pen hand reluctant and jittery. So -- I studied the many articles and blog posts relevant to art journaling, and shook my head over and again. A single word? Uh -- not. A phrase or quote? Shucks, those are merely my jump-off points, never summarizing my thoughts compactly, succinctly. Both my written and visual journaling tapered off, stuttering, spluttering, then screeched (literally) to a standstill.
What was I feeling? From experience over the last four years, I understood profoundly the value of the visual journal in unearthing the moist, the blunt, the raw, the hesitant, the very ENTRAILS my pen tended to gloss over or downright avoid. I still wanted to get beyond my 'habits' of writing, out of my own almost 'automatic' Pen Head. And the overlap (written, visual) happens subconsciously, organically, anyway -- there is no stopping the influence of one on the other. It really is true that sometimes a color, an image, can immediately, perfectly express what no amount of writing has yet been able to grasp. And then, and always, after working or playing in my visual art journal, when I returned to the writing, my pen moved without gravity, with an altered, informed, freed continuity and awareness, full of (YES!) surprises and revelations.
I remembered distinctly that neither would I be anywhere without the uncountable books I've ingested, the reams of found correspondence, travel journals, the diaries and personal writings of the past that made their way to me. Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Teresa of Avila, Benjamin Franklin, May Sarton, the pioneer women who recorded their lives in small bound books and neat, alert penmanship, to name a few. And then there are my two abiding favorites, more influential than any others: The Diary of Frida Kahlo, and The Diaries of Anais Nin. WRITING IS AN ART FORM! How deeply within you did that statement resound? Art journals are, for the "now", glorified, extolled, held aloft to the near exclusion of any other art form. I feel, in turns, angered by and resistant to that, despite my intellectual ability to recognize a trend as a trend when I see one. It can feel like a devaluing of written journaling, all this art journal trumpeting. For those of us who are mainly, deliberately (and also helplessly) written journalers, writers, it also delivers a thrust into further isolation -- because writing simply does not allow the immediate, almost instant gratification effected by the visual arts. There is no publication anywhere devoted to written journaling that I've been able to unearth. I see the impact of art journaling (visual! visual! visual!) even on my blog, where I receive heightened response to "technique" posts, and writing prompts are met with silence. Even a strictly written post, such as this, absent of visual accompaniment (filler?) tends to be scanned then passed over. We have slowly been conditioned to seek the RIGHT NOW, the LESS WORK, of visual art, over the effort required to allow writing to paint, sculpt, weave, and sing to and for us.
For me, a visual journal is just one among the many tools I utilize to impact, break open, expose and hone my written voice. The visual journal isn't something to suppress, supplant, or compete with my written expression. It hasn't lesser or greater value. My fervent wish is that we soon regain our perspective, a retreat from the art journal genuflecting currently en vogue. My fervent wish is also for writers to hold steadfast, and minus doubt. A Bic pen on a sheet of unembellished paper is every ounce as potent, as magical, as paint, ephemera, and photographs. If you are, as I am, A WRITER, it's critical to remember we stand aside visual artists as PEERS, rather than subordinates. Many who are visual artists are so because they can't write (or anyway believe that to be true). If we writers feel bouts of visual-art-envy, we can remind ourselves that perhaps visual artists experience envy over our ease with a pen, words, creativity and expression on a page.
And, if you've noticed, most art/visual journalers ultimately incorporate some form of the written word. Fundamentally, and ideally, there is no place for competition among art genres. It's counterproductive and, I'm certain, not at all what any of us intend. We all need each other and mainly seem to realize this. We all benefit from our diversity, from the stimulation one medium provides another. Let's shake hands, call it an equal exchange, then return each to our studios, inspired by and INDIVIDUAL in our talents.