There’s an ancient Persian fairy tale featuring three Princes whose father, the great and wise King Giaffer, being a good father and a good king. Wanted his sons to become educated and endowed with wisdom, knowledge and all the virtues a prince should possess. The king summoned the best tutors from across the lands to entrust his sons with the knowledge of the universe. In Science, Maths and History the three princes study and became knowledgeable and the king was pleased. But concerned his sons weren’t gaining experience in the world just knowledge of it, he decided to fake anger with his sons and sent them away, off into the world.
So the three princes of the kingdom of Serendip went off into the world and had many adventures and solved many mysteries (notable one to do with a three-legged camel) and generally experienced life and become wise and worldly in their views and of coursed lived happily ever after. The tale of the three Princes of Serendip has been called the world first detective story because the princes use analytical methods to disciver and solve clues whilst on their adventures. Its also the origins of the word “Serendipity” because the Princes made their discoveries and had their adventures by accident and without understanding of the quest of experience their father had sent them on. The word was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 as meaning a discovery by good fortune or luck. The notion of “luck” or “chance” is a familiar one and common occurrence in history such as the accidental discovery of Penicillin or the invention of the microwave and even the creation of the post-it note.
What these examples share with the Princes journey is that it was not just by luck they made their discoveries but because they held an open mind for opportunities, they were open to new ideas and looking for new chances and so discovered them. It is not just through chance we discover and find new things but when we are ready and searching with open minds, thats when Serendipity plays its hand.
I find being an artist is very much like being one of the three princes of Serendip, you are on a quest with which you don’t necessarily understand or even know you are on, sometimes you feel somewhat banished from society, you think you can discover these things by looking and thinking and attempting to work out a process and by developing an understanding of your surroundings but really it doesn’t truly come together without a bit of luck. Without being/seeing/talking or just doing the right thing at the right time, it can be the thin red line between it working and it not. Also like the princes the understanding starts often with a basic insight into history and knowledge through books, tapes, exhibitions and information. Tennyson once said
“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers”
Its with our knowledge we eventually become wise enough to know what on earth we are going on about. Its with these two arms of information and experience we learn to move forward and create new things. Picasso didn’t just randomly create Cubism one fine day in spring, Cubism came from the inspiration Picasso saw in traditional African tribal masks and conversations and experiments with other artists which had the end result of Cubism.
Its with a mixture of this knowledge, experience and serendipity that we travel through this world. So the secret to creating and staying off that evil terror known as “artist block” is keeping an open mind set, like Picasso or the chap who discovered Penicillin or created the post-it note, they weren’t planning on changing the world but they held an open mind so when serendipity presented them with an opportunity they saw it and developed it into something amazing (especially true of post-age notes, saved my arm from me using it as a notepad many a time).
The good news is there is quite a lot you can do as an artist in Cardiff to look for these Serendipity moments, there are of course a host of very friendly gallery and amazing folks to chat too. Or volunteer at one of the many great places, Chapter, Ffotogallery, Made in Roath or WARP to name four. Plus helpful publications such as the Cardiff Art map, the monthly WARP bulletin or just keep an eye on social media and turn up at an event or art opening. The wonderful thing about the Cardiff art scene is its very close. I’m sure you are aware of the theory of 6 degrees of separation. Where you are connected to anyone through 6 people? Cardiff its more like 2 …. 3 at most….. maybe 3 and a half if you haven’t been around for a while but kinda know that guy you nod to and say “Alright” too but don’t actually know his name and its been nine months of nodding and saying hi so its kinda gone on a bit too far to inquire, so you just end up calling him “mate” all the time and hope someone will mention his name or one of you will add the other on Facebook, I think it might be Mike, or Mark, Im not too sure…. anyway I digress. It’s a very friendly, very open and welcoming community.
But the best thing to do is just to get out there and see some art, drink some tea and meet and chat to other artists. John Donne wrote
“No one is an island, Entire of itself, every one is a piece of the continent”
I’ve always thought that true of society and certainly of the arts, it’s a wide but close community that we all share and make up and in it we inspire and create together to produce our own individuals art practises.
And yea you do get stuck in a rut and question everything and the purpose of it all occasionally but again it’s the community that helps to get you back on the road and if you keep going, you find those wonderful serendipitous moments. Thanks for reading, have a good day.