An autotelic setup

100 stickmen

As a 4 year old boy, I remember being suddenly obsessed by drawing 'stickmen' on every page of the drawing books we got at kindergarden. These were actually cheap writing blocks of yellowish paper with horizontal blue writing lines and one vertical red line on the left side of each paper. I filled every page with one human figure in a different position and colour. When it was full, I discovered I could get a new block to continue. I also encouraged the boy next to me to do the same.

It was not so long ago that I made the obvious connection with what I create nowadays so many years later. It's awkward and funny but probably a good thing because the memory of the childhood experience seems to provide extra authentic energy needed to keep on making art-like things in this hysteric, mad world.

Yesterday I found a word to describe what is probably a main driver behind my artistic activity. I stumbled upon a video essay by Adam Westbrook: Painting in the dark, The Struggle for Art in a World Obsessed with Popularity.

In the video he mentions a book by the Hungarian Psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi: Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience. I did not read it, but I learned that new word: autotelic. The combination of two things: auto (self) and telos (goal). In the words of the professor: "it refers to a self contained activity, one that is not done with the expectation of future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward. When the experience is autotelic the person is paying attention to the activity for its own sake. When it is not, the attention is focused on its consequences."

This autotelic experience is something children all have by default. As an adult, and especially as an artist, hundreds of tiny social disruptions make it very hard to dive deep in anything. Unnecessary connections drain the battery fast or create huge memory leaks.

I don't have these very early drawings anymore. I suppose they were thrown away at some point. I could buy some of those old fashioned writing blocks and redo the drawings like it was 1970 again. Instead I opened Illustrator, invented some basic drawing rules and created 100 stickmen.

100 stickmen
↳ 100 stickmen

Author: Hans Verhaegen, Brussels, 2017