Definition of IDEATION: the capacity for or the act of forming
or entertaining ideas.
Forming ideas does have a process. It may be a little different for everybody but the more we do the better we become. The other day my students said to me that I was the first art teacher to tell them there are rules. They said they are always being told to follow their feelings and just have fun with art. I agree with that philosophy to a degree but I know there are rules and once we learn the rules we can intelligently break them. One of the rules I honor is allowing myself time to freely play with any and all ideas when I start a new project. Everything is fair game until I hone it down to what will work for me and what will work for the client. Trying not to be jaded and judgmental requires greater and greater amounts of education. The more I know the less I know. When I start a project I look at art. I visit galleries and museums looking for things to set my mind whirling. I walk a lot and observe my surroundings. When I present a new project to my students I do the same thing for them - I present artists but I also ask them questions that cause them to see the conditions of their environment and how it impacts their art. For example - every year I do a project based upon the work of Wayne Thiebaud. I bring in cupcakes which the students place in front of them and use as a 'model.'
Cupcake painting by artist Wayne Thiebaud
Obviously there is a sensory element and a desire to eat the cupcake that adds to the intensity of the work. But I also discuss the science of the cupcake and the ingredients that cause it to expand in the oven and create the puffed top and the flared cupcake paper. I talk about imagining the pastry bag that the icing was pumped out of. The more my students learn about what they are painting the better they paint it. This year an interesting thing happened - the first day of painting I could not pick up the cupcake order in time for class so I started the project with a virtual cupcake instead. I pulled up a picture on the classroom computer and let the students reference it. The paintings were the least successful they have ever been - flat, without life or understanding of the subject. In past years this is always my most successful project so this came as a complete surprise. Today I brought the actual cupcakes in and the difference in the work was significant. It was obvious to me that if you can't fully imagine the sensation of what you are painting you need the most complete reference you can get. In time you will be able to train your imagination to create fully realized ideas that supply all the details you need to finish the work. To me it was obvious that there is a process to creating the reference in your mind that you will pull to form ideas. As artists we need to know when to fill in the gaps. I recently saw a picture of the illustrator Maira Kalman drawing an egg slicer. Although her style is playful and not fully realistic she still needed to reference an actual egg slicer to get the full feeling of the object she was drawing.
The formulation of ideas is such a complex process and to begin to break it down would barely define it. But to try and understand how we personally start on the road to a fully realized work of art is part of maturing as an artist. It helps us to break faster towards our own ideas and final pieces. Ideation is about engaging the senses and breaking up preconceived notions but at the same time maintaining a certain order to your thinking. An idea is as complex as a light bulb when you think about it. It has to connect to something to spark the energy that creates the light. What a perfect analogy!