Inspiration from the Uninspiring

Hauptweg und Nebenwege (Main Path and Side Paths)

Greetings, Becca’s readers! Thanks for letting me share creativity with you today. And many thanks to Becca for inviting me here! Her blog is a source of weekly inspiration and thought-provoking challenge, so I feel honored that she’s asked me to share some inspiration in return.

A Creative Journey and a First Step

As some of you might already know, I grew up in Germany and attended German schools. My last two years of “high school,” I was part of an art program that required 3 hours and 45 minutes of classroom work (5 class periods) per week. It was intensive, challenging, and explosively inspiring.

Explosively? Well, in the sense that, within a few weeks after the first class met, my brain was exploding with new, creative ideas. I hope you read Becca’s recent post about left and right brains; let’s just say that these art classes pumped a gazillion watts of energy into my right brain!

A few weeks into our third semester, our teacher, Herr Ripp, took us on a day-trip to Köln (Cologne), about two hours by train from our city of Darmstadt. We got to do some sight-seeing, which was fantastic — but the main reason for our trip was to visit an art exhibit on Swiss-German painter Paul Klee. The exhibit featured several of his works but focused on his famous Hauptweg und Nebenwege (Main Path and Side Paths). This was the painting Herr Ripp really wanted us to see.

Main Path and Side Paths

We were less than impressed. The painting did not catch the eye. It didn’t stand out. It consisted of horizontal strips of pale pastel colors. Kinda dull, really. Yes, Herr Ripp, we see how the lines converge toward the horizon. Yes, Herr Ripp, we can identify the main path, and we can tell that he meant those abstract patches there to represent a landscape. Can we go look at some controversial religious art now?

A few days later, we met for our first class period after coming back from Köln, and that’s when Herr Ripp dropped the bombshell: Our main project for this semester would be creating our own individual series of paintings based on the Haupweg und Nebenwege concept. So, break out the watercolors. Everybody ready? Go!

How do teachers survive the blank looks and audible groans of students? Herr Ripp must have had tremendous fortitude — not to mention patience. We couldn’t have moved any more slowly in unpacking our supplies, sitting down at our drafting tables, and putting pencils to paper for preliminary sketches.

But then, to our collective surprise (and probably Herr Ripp’s precise expectation), magic happened.

Haupt- und Nebenwege: Bekleckst (Main and Side Paths: Splotched)

The Path Less Traveled

Fifteen years later, I won’t try to tell you what my fellow students thought and felt as their paintings took shape. But for me, it was like watching someone else create art and feeling amazement at what was appearing beneath the paintbrush.

Suddenly, I understood why Klee’s work fascinated the public. For the first time, I heard what he was trying to say — because, in my own “words,” I was saying the same thing.

As I worked on my series, the pieces spoke to me ever more clearly about possibility. Childlike wonder. Adventure. The harmony in recognized purpose, the clash of conflicting interests. Fear. Longing. I saw desire and passion. And somewhere in there was a sense of whimsy, too.

After that semester, we didn’t revisit Hauptweg und Nebenwege. But the themes of Klee’s painting stayed with me. I’d lived and breathed them, capturing them in my own work and adding to them my own creative voice. They’d become a part of me, and they were not going to let me go.

I wouldn’t realize this for more than ten years.

Journeys from the Future

In 2007, I sat down to do paintings for my friends Vanessa and Janine. Both of these young women were approaching crossroads in their lives, and as my thoughts drifted to explore themes for the paintings, a stray memory scratched tentatively at the back of my mind.

I’d approached a crossroads myself when I was Vanessa’s and Janine’s age. In retrospect, maybe a certain series of paintings had me in a certain direction. Onto a certain path.

Haupt- und Nebenwege: A Journey in Miniature (i, ii, iii)

Thus were born Haupt- und Nebenwege: A Journey in Miniature (i, ii, iii) for Vanessa, and Haupt- und Nebenwege: The Journey Continues for Janine. Both paintings reflect my preference of concrete imagery over abstract…and yet, the themes are the same. I look at both pieces and see the hint of main and side paths, and I wonder where future adventures will lead my two sweet friends.


Haupt- und Nebenwege: The Journey Continues

Klee’s work did not have me at hello. But I gave it a chance, and those “uninspiring” strips of pastel have guided my creative subconscious ever since. They will remain with me always. I’ve done other Hauptweg und Nebenwege pieces since 2007, and I know that the artist child within me is not done exploring those creative paths.

I take my series out every so often and look at each piece, and two opposing feelings clash within me: the sense of coming home, and the thrill of the unknown.

Hello, paths of future journeys. What shall we paint today?

Courtney Cantrell

Courtney is Vice President and Head of the Writing School within the Consortium and author of the blog Court Can Write.

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