Finding Ideas For Art Projects (Part 1)

After taping up my task and to-do lists, and before I read books about my biennial’s theme, I read my thesaurus. Most ideas for my installations stem from this long list of words and their definitions.

I start at the beginning and look at each synonym-ized word to see if it sparks some head-or-gut connection to my biennial’s theme, in this case memory. When I come to a word that sparks, I read through its synonyms for other words that spark, no matter how abstractly.

For each word, I read its definition in my dictionary (at-the-ready on my lap), to see if its meaning inspires just as much.

Each time I feel a word could kindle an installation idea, I get up from my reading chair, and type it and definition into my concepts file. Here are the words I added for MEMORY:

ancestry
n. 1. Descent or lineage. 2. Ancestors collectively.

archive
n. A place or collection containing records, documents, or other materials of historical interest. v. To store or file in a place or collection, records, documents, or other materials of historical interest.

chronicle
n. A chronological record of historical events. v. To record in or in the form of a chronicle.

erase
v. 1. To remove something written or drawn by or as if by rubbing. 2. To remove all traces of.

impression
n. 1. A mark or imprint made on a surface by pressure. 2. An effect, image, or feeling retained as a consequence of experience. 3. A vague notion, remembrance, opinion, or belief. 

memoir
n. 1. An autobiography or biography. 2. A written reminder. 3. The report or proceedings of a learned society.

narrative
n. 1. A story or description of actual or fictional events. 2. The act, technique, or process of narrating.

origin
n. 1. The primary source or cause of something. 2. Parentage; ancestry. 3. A coming into being. 4. The point of intersection of coordinate axes.

relic
n. 1. An object or custom surviving from a culture or period that has disappeared. 2. A keepsake. 3. An object of religious veneration.

Reading a word and its definition can immediately generate an installation idea. Other times, the word sits way back in my brain, waiting to make its concept known. Usually I come to these more elusive words’ ideas while my hands are in dishwater, or on my steering wheel, or folding clothes, or swinging as I walk. Other times, an installation will fill my brain in that moment I have woken, but have not yet opened my eyes.

Softened and pliable from 16 years of use, my thesaurus and dictionary are objects that give me comfort as I begin to think about what will be my final biennial’s works. Their weight is familiar, how they feel in my hands and how their pages fan under my fingers. Although I am concentrating on words connected to my last biennial’s theme, I can’t help but wonder if I will use these same books, and this same tactic, when I develop installations beyond my biennials.

How do you find ideas for art projects?
(I would really like to know. Feel free to respond through comment.)