There always seems to exist a simultaneous yearning and rejection of the inner critic vs. the outer critic. The inner critic: that inner voice we have that responds to the deeply personal art making process which at times includes self doubt. And the outer critic: those who write about art from the outside, such as journalists or historians.
To criticize criticism is an irresistible lure for most artists but here we are in the boat together, surely we can find value in both the inner and outer critic?
I think one of the things I have had a hard time with over the years is the outer critic’s need to categorize, label, box in, and define an artist’s body of work. At least for me, I have no consciousness about how my work will be categorized as I’m making it. I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that I’m ignorant to how the categorization of an artist work rolls out. Perhaps this labeling and comparison to other artists helps the outer critic understand a work of art? As if appreciating art can only occur after it has been properly defined as it fits into an artistic movement etc.
Artist Ben Shahn said, “I believe that if it were left to the artist to chose their own labels most would chose none.” That is certainly how I feel. Still, even though that inner critic is the most honest thing to hang our hat on, we still need outside perspectives and guides that may help us understand how our work fits into the larger picture so to speak. It’s tricky to find that balance however; that balance of trusting and staying true to that inner critic while staying open to the outside interpretation of your work.
My artist friends who are dancers, musicians and writers alike struggle with this duality as well. Artists who are more advanced in their career tell me that they have to try to not read the bad as well as the good reviews that the outer critics write about their work. Both praise and criticism alike can offer a skewed and distorted view of their work. The same work that was created in a solitary inner critic place, which later can be chopped up into little sound bites of jargon. On the contrary, what about that time the outer critic said something so reveling, so thoughtful about your work that it made you, the artist, see your work in a whole new light? Hum.. I guess that’s what I mean by the yearning and rejection playing out simultaneously.
And what about the general public as an outer critic? Social media can offer the anonymity of the general public to post opinions and critiques alike. It is a reality of our modern world and has become partly how we communicate but I think the flood of instantaneous gut responses to things can be deleterious to the artist. Like pure noise, we are tempted to hear people’s response to our work but I think it is yet another layer of chaos that can play havoc to an artist’s overall psyche.
Therefore this brings us back to why is it important to concentrate most on the inner critic; because in the end it should be the inner critic that speaks the loudest. After honing one’s craft over time the artist has an almost unconscious fluidity with their medium, a confidence and ease which allows the inner critic to surface and contemplate the feel, texture, light and shadows of a work. It guides the artist to make decisions with intention; like choices to erase or discard as well as to build and layer. Ideas move back and forth during this process and this is the creative strength of an inner critic. But if an artist allows doubt or concerns on how others will ‘accept’ or ‘shun’ this idea, the work begins to die or become stagnant.
I’m not sure I made any real arguments in this post. However it is something I think about and question frequently and this is a journal of process after all.
I continue to try and chip away at the phenomenon I referred to as ‘call and response’, the way in which we take in information and sensory stimuli and turn around and put it back into the world. I introduced this idea in an earlier blog entry.
I approach this idea as an artist, not an academic, philosopher, or anything else. I base my reflections on real life experience and honest contemplation and curiosity. I use this blog as a journal of process and making as such…nothing more, and nothing less.
I find that my creative ideas come to me in two ways. The first and more common way is by allowing a list of conscious tools to play out during the art making process I simply call Imagination (as I list below) and the second way is to trust in the seemingly random occurrences that happens to me which offer new ideas and ways of thinking…something I call Chance.
The most common way I begin a work of art, as Lewis Hyde suggests is with “perception, experience, intuition, imagination, a dream, a vision or another work of art”. I find that all of these possibilities crisscross and intersect with each other at different times of the creative process. I often begin a sculpture by following a remote possibility and move material around until my intuition takes full flight. It is not until part of the artwork has become visible that I then allow my imagination to enter the picture. Yes, believe it or not these awareness feel different and I they tap into a different part of your senses. And on truly rare occasions are as Hyde explains,” the unrefined materials of experience or imagination are finished works in which case the artists is merely the transmitter or medium.” Meaning you just finished a piece of art and you have no idea where it came from, it flowed thru you with such speed and certainty that you were left wondering where it came from.
You become the “transmitter” of something truly greater than yourself. This experience leaves me dumbfounded. A surge of gratitude comes over me and I feel a deep sense of humility and reverence. I trust that something else is at play and I just happened to be the lucky artist to have had this experience graced upon me. There is an urgency to share the work with the outside world; it is not for me but for ‘us’. This is my Response part of the call and response phenomenon.
The second way I come across an idea for art is by Chance. It can be explained best by one of my truly favorite quotes by the brilliant Art historian Alexander Nemerov. He describes with such poetry and beauty the realm of the aesthetic possibility. He writes, “It was the realm of the situation, a chance encounter, an explosion unfolding in a small pocket of space, in which some strange and hitherto utterly unrealized view of the world might for a moment appear. At the heart of that explosion into vividness would be the aesthetic fragment itself, the sliver or shard that shaped the blankness and opacity of one’s surroundings, for just that moment, into a transient yet memorial coherence.”
It is my hope that all people have experienced this, not just artists. It begins with that moment in time, when lets say you are taking a walk and a sudden swirl of leaves funnel up in front of you and it instantly snaps your consciousness somewhere else, the occurrence makes you think about an idea, a possibility that you would not have thought about before that moment. An idea that really has nothing to do with you. It is not personnel. It is this very spark, if you will, that can be truly the gift for a creative mind, especially a mind and heart who has been practicing keeping oneself open to the realm of possibilities.
I will end this entry by saying that taping into these conscious patterns of making becomes easier with time and practice. Twenty years ago I would not have even dreamed that this was possible. So keep at it.
I’ll never forget the sound of grinding metal, Shostakovitch and Mahler, and my father’s whistling echoing through the vents in my house each evening as a child. That’s right; my father had his “shop” in the basement of every home we ever lived in. He made telescope mounts and clock drives among other things. Dad’s shop was always a dark and somewhat mysterious place. I have memories as a child of tip toeing into his shop so not to step on metal shavings, I remember my father coming upstairs from the Shop seeming a little bit different. I did not understand this change as a child …but now I do, I know while he was in the shop, he gathered himself, shut out the noise, and created things. This changes people; this helps people function and survive in this non-stop and complicated world.
Fast forward many years, as a sculptor, I have had the great fortune to work in many studios. From an old Model T Ford factory, book binderies in Chicago, old tool and die shops and now the Eli Whitney Museum Barn….all of these spaces were precious and significant to my overall psyche, creativity, and outlook on life. Still the connection of my father’s “shop” and my “studio” never quite came into fruition until I had the pleasure of speaking about the importance of working spaces with my New Zealander friend Lucy.
We began the discussion about the phenomenon of the SHED in New Zealand. It might be the equivalent of what we Americans call our shop, studio, or garage. It is a separate place, a place of departure. A place one feels free to explore various hobbies with their hands and their hearts and minds. Apparently it is very common to have a shed in New Zealand. Lucy told me many of these sheds are located in a separate garage-like building behind ones house. One of her family’s shed has a slated path that connects the house to the shed. This path introduces the departure from everyday life to an inner life. There’s something almost ceremonial about it…beautiful.
Of course after hearing about the Shed phenomenon I immediately started to think about how the private spaces people create nurture their inventive pastimes….or in taking it a step further, what significance do these spaces have on a society’s overall well-being? Does it make us make us more patient, thoughtful, and creative? Does it help us in exploring new ideas and encourage our experimental selves? I don’t have the answer to these questions but on a personal note, I thought back on my father’s shop. How the quiet space and solitude, working with his hands, and letting his mind wander most likely played a big role in my family’s survival. With eight people in our family, the non-stop schedules, the noise, noise, noise around us, how must it have felt to take a few steps into the basement, turn on Mahler and begin making things.
I think of this in my own life as I walk into my studio each day, before I even turn on the light or music, I will stand there and look up and around me, take in the smells of wood and clay. Like pressing the pause button….if only for a moment.
I’d like to think of the forest, with its enclosures, walls of trees, canopy of leaves, serving a similar purpose in many people’s lives. Yes, one is not necessarily using their hands to ‘make’ something as they do in a studio but surely in this environment of separation and solitude one ‘makes’ something within.
Those separate spaces are sacred, special and important in helping us tune out the noise of the everyday. These spaces manmade or otherwise, give us enough pause such that we may re-calibrate ourselves.
How long did it take you to make that?
A lifetime (then I get a giggle…they don’t know what to say next). I’m not really trying to be a smart ass but I cannot tell someone that this particular sculpture may have taken me 2 hours to form…but clearly sooo much happened before that ‘forming’ began.
I don’t know why I like this artwork, I just do, does this sound too simple?
No, it doesn’t. I’m guessing that is what most artists like to hear. So many people begin to make excuses about not having a lot of art appreciation training, or understanding of art history to explain why they like a piece. I tell them it’s perfectly honest to follow your gut response to art…no justifications needed.
Do you always have new ideas?
You make it look so easy.
It’s not. It just looks that way because I love doing it so much. But there are days that art making is really challenging; like anything else in life.
You must have had a lot of art in your life as a child?
Not really. I was just instinctively a fervent observer.
Do you like working on commissions?
Sometimes yes and other times not so much. What I am is very grateful to have commissions to help support my art career.
Why don’t you do anymore work like you did in previous series?
There is a rhythm to art making. If I generally feel like I’ve exhausted a series then I know I need to move on. Explore. This is how you keep yourself feeling challenged and refreshed.
How is it that your personality is so funny and positive and much or your work shows struggle or pain?
I sculpt what I care about. I’m trying to figure out the nuanced expressions of pain and struggle as I work thru pieces. Sometimes the answer is deeply powerful and it helps me digest what is happening around me on a daily basis…pain and beauty alike.
Do you always play music in your studio?
Yes. Music is really important to me while I make art. It helps me separate the noise of the outside world: It helps me concentrate and feel more present.
Why don’t you talk more about the meaning of your art?
Because I don’t like to speak about my work on the spot. I feel like words simplify the true essence of the entire process and piece of art itself. I feel really inarticulate when I speak publically about my work. I want the work speaks for itself.
What does it feel like to be an artist?
I feel like a tree. I have absolutely no doubt that I am doing what I was put on this earth to do(my roots). I continue to grown and evolve each year..(my trunk). And I’m reaching out in all directions absorbing all I can (my branches and leaves). In a storm a tree shakes sometimes violently, I too feel this.
In 2007 I woke up one morning with a clear image in my head. Receiving a clear image like this ‘out of the blue’ is rare for me. I knew it was some kind of gift.
It was of a worried middle age woman bent slightly at the waist turning to look behind her. Her long cape-like shall covered three children nestled against her in fear. I went to the studio that morning and made that sculpture which I entitled, ‘Mother Protecting Her Children During War’. I later concluded that this sculpture documented a moment in time, sharing the story of All mothers protecting their children during ALL wars.
I exhibited the sculpture in Chicago and later at the Botanical Gardens at Yale University. Midway through this exhibit a man broke into the greenhouses, stole a van and loaded up to 12 of my sculptures. The theft was heartbreaking and a bit surreal. The man was trying to sell my sculptures at a gas station days later at 5 am. As it turned out an antiques dealer was there pumping gas at the same time and the thief tried selling him my work. The antiques guy was touched by the ‘Protecting Mother’ sculpture and bought it. The next day a picture of the sculpture was on the front page of the local newspaper. The antiques dealer saw it and contacted the police and long story short, 9 of my stolen sculptures were found; and the thief was arrested.
The ‘Protecting Mother’ sculpture was found just in time to be shipped to an exhibit I was having in France later that month. The story of this piece of art has only just begun.
During the France exhibition a family from Austria saw the sculpture, later to find out they were deeply moved by it. They saw themselves in the sculpture immediately, as they became the protective caregivers of a child whose parents were substance abusers. After the exhibition closed 6 months later, this family traveled from Austria to Switzerland where the sculpture was placed before being shipped back to the US. It was serendipity that they found and purchased it on the spot.
I had a second copy made in bronze, which was sold to a collector of mine in Chicago.
I had a third copy made. This time a man from CT bought it. He later told me that the mother in the sculpture reminded him of himself. He told me how his mother left him and his brothers at a young age and he became the ‘mother’ protecting/raising his younger brothers.
This man paid me in cash in monthly installments. One day just after he paid me I was on my way to pick up my baby from a home daycare provider; an incredible woman who came to the US as a refugee from Iraq. I was planning on giving her the money that the man had just given me for her daycare services. SUDDENDLY I was STRUCK by the connectedness of it all. The Iraqi daycare provider totally embodied the sculpture’s message. She fled Iraq protecting her 4 children she once told me. The story was tragic and frightening. Once I realized the connectedness of it all I had to pull my car over to the side of the road to weep. The coincidence that this money was going to her was just too powerful.
Yes I believe this to be true. The universal stories, energies colliding to make apparent something truly awesome. It’s circular… it’s real.
I made a fourth copy of this sculpture and exhibited it in New Haven for World Refugee Day. A Rwandan refugee came up to me and told me in her broken English that the woman in the sculpture was her. She kept pointing to it. She told me how she had hid all of her children during a raid and was able to quietly guide them out of the window to their safely. I didn’t ask her who she was running from I just listened to her story. She said she protected her children. I couldn’t help but feel other powers at work. It left me silent. I do not question the greater meaning this sculpture. What I do know is that it simply fit into our shared and complex narrative.
The fifth copy of this sculpture found it’s home with a brilliant philosopher whose parents were Holocaust survivors. He saw this sculpture representing all Jewish mothers during this horrible time in our history.
For years I’ve wanted to share this story. I was never able to justifiably write about how incredible some of these stories really were and what impact they had on me. It all seemed so layered…perhaps hard to follow…but it was as clear as day for me to see the thread that linked all these stories to one piece of art. After all it is merely a journey of a work of art that found deep meaning in some people’s lives. What is has shown me is to trust in what I create. Do not worry about how it will fit into this world. We have no control over this. It is not our job to find its value; the work will speak for itself.
I recently discovered the sheer brilliancy of renowned comedian/actor Charlie Chaplin. Surely everyone has either seen a picture of him, huge baggy pants, Hitler-like mustache, whimsically twirling a cane but wow, I never thought twice about this silent film performer until…NOW! He was a true artist that can make you cry out loud and simultaneously weep from his sincerity.
I just went to a wonderful new museum in Switzerland that was built in his honor. It is ajacent to his home where he lived after he left the US in 1952.
What is truly remarkable about this artist is his absolute unique expression and courage. Watching his movements/choreography in his films is breathtaking. Yes, he is funny but he does so much more than evoking a laugh. The themes of his films were touching, tragic, and serious. Still, with his brilliant humor he spread joy and helped people understand our shared human nature, both devastating and divine. Chaplin said, “ I did not have to read books to know that the theme of life is conflict and pain. (Humor) activates our sense of proportion and revels to us that in an over-statement of seriousness lurks the absurd.”
My family and I watched his silent film entitled ‘The Child’ and something very special happened. I assumed that my young sons would not really enjoy the film based on the idea that they were too overly stimulated with high definition graphics and sound found in current films, but man was I wrong. This film under the arch of comedy showed a poor man essentially finding and caring for an abandoned baby. He raised the child until he was about 5 where then an orphanage took the child away from Chaplin because they thought he was too poor to properly raise him. But the deep love the child and Chaplin shared was so strong…remember this is a silent film. One has to rely on different sensibilities when watching silent films.
The emotional cues read in the faces and body was electrifying.
To my great surprise my 7 year old wept and ran out of the room. It was too difficult for him to watch. This silent film made in 1921 had a greater impact than most films he watches today.
One cannot help but to giggle and laugh out loud when seeing this man move, watch his facial reactions to things. He performs with every cell of his being. He spoke about how important it was to maintain one’s individualism, for artists this is especially true. Chaplin stressed the importance of an artist to be deeply connected to their time and respond and speak about our difficulties and joys. Chaplin’s politics and films were always based on his love for humanity.
His voice is loud and clear, his expression absolute. This coming from a man who came from abject poverty in the late 1890’s. His father died of alcoholism at age 37 and his mother suffered a permanent mental breakdown. He spent periods of his childhood in institutions for destitute children and made pennies joining a dance troupe as a young boy.
All in all, a young life that was not easy, a life that gave him the early introduction to loss, love and ambition. I am struck by his humanity. Chaplin was an artist that broke boundaries with humor and movement, an artist that was selfless.
He stared in his films but also composed the music, directed, and edited his films. I was surprised to learn that Chaplin did not write out the full content of his films ahead of time instead he let situations and relationships reveal themselves as they came. I too work this way when I make art: it’s pretty liberating…. and at times nerve wracking. When we are nervous it means we care and have humility; we do not take things for granted. Complacency is never good for creativity. Chaplin wrote, “How does one get ideas? By sheer perseverance to the point of madness. One must have a capacity to suffer anguish and sustain enthusiasm over a long period of time.”
Around 1940 Charlie Chaplin made a political satire drama called ‘The Great Dictator’ which was about Hitler and the Nazi regime. There is a scene where Chaplin (impersonating Hitler) was giving a speech…he shouted staccato nonsense… bumbling, slurring and spitting his words into a microphone. It is brilliant. Chaplin shows with sickening humor Hitler’s barbarous character. He took such horror and flipped it upside down and makes us laugh at the absurdity of a man who was responsible for orchestrating mass genocide.
Hitler saw the movie, reportedly by himself in a locked theater. When he exited the theater he had a blank expression. Just imagine what was going through his mind.
Art can allow us to see ourselves like nothing else can.
I want to share are a few key truths about how a young artist might push forward and find balance and a voice in this complex world of ours where often times self worth and respect is tied too closely to our paychecks. It was not that long along that I too began this journey.
Well graduates, you have already finished a very important first step towards your goals. Your journey has officially begun! You believed in yourself and the power of art and dedicated the last four years immersed in the field. You have already begun to learn how to listen to your intuitions and act on them accordingly.
This honest way of listening to oneself and following a path that is fulfilling is often ridiculed in our society because it ‘not stable enough’, or there is ‘no guarantee you can actually make a living from it.’ When people speak this way it makes me think about a study that was done which documented the testimonials of hundreds of patients on their death bed. The conclusion of this study showed a commonality of the top two regrets that the patient’s lamented upon. The first regret is that they did not spend enough time with their family and the second regret was that they wished they had followed their dreams and did what they loved.
“This follow your heart business sounds wonderful and all”, says the parent sitting next to you who feels the normal anxiety of what career awaits their recent grad. But alas following your heart is WONDERFUL and VERY real and it’s about as honest a thing as you’ll ever hear. But graduates, the vocation of an artist is a journey that entails a tremendous amount of work. Sorry, you probably do not want o hear that right now but it is the truth. Because in the end, creative vocations such as artists, writers, scientists, and musicians often rely on processes and intuitions that are not easily understood which make it hard to measure and quantify . Society would like to think it has figured it out how to measure the success of the artist based on how much their painting sold for. But this is such a small part of the whole picture.
The truth of the matter is No one will hand over a check list of things you must do to succeed, you have to write that list for yourself everyday. Because YOU are in charge. With this comes empowerment and liberty. My journey in the last 26 years has been nothing short of amazing and I would not trade it for anything in the world.
These first few steps out of school of course feel scary and uncertain but I also hope that each and everyone of you are excited to dive into your creative selves with a great tenacity and grit. And when you dedicate yourself with unwavering focus get ready to Make Mistakes….it is how we grow. Try new ideas, work in new mediums, teach a class, volunteer, exhibit, share your work and do this 100 times over again. If you think I am exaggerating I’m not. Keeping your mind and options open with the jobs you choose along the way because it will only help you figure out what fit it the best for YOU. The most important thing is to not be afraid to fail and make mistakes. Recognize that when you do fail you understand your limitations and your strengths.
One example of what I initially thought was a failure in my career path ended up being one of the most influential experiences not only in my life but also in my artwork. A year or so after I graduated college I decided to explore my deep desire to help others and found myself in a social worker job working with foster children in Chicago’s most disenfranchised communities. I lasted only three years because I burned out. But this experience unknowingly put me on a tract with my art career that I would have never imaged when I first took that job. I saw humanity at its best and worst. Stories and themes of our shared struggles and joys started seeping through my art. It is important to note that even after a full day of social work or teaching I never stopped making art. Nearly every night I would come home from work and sculpt…it was after all, the thing that made me feel the most whole and truly at peace.
Recognizing How exhilarating it was to use the gift I had to express myself and help others at the same time was nothing short of awesome. Humm…perhaps this is what Joseph Cambel means by “Following your Bliss”…and your path will essentially reveal itself.
Still, at the beginning I did not know how I would go about finding my voice and produce thoughtful and engaging art about the things I cared for. But what I did know is that I needed to build a strong foundation. I needed to hone my modeling skills, knowledge of materials and build the courage to try new methods. This foundation would later give me the freedom to be able to tackle any new idea. But it’s still just the start.
I believe the more you make the more you grow. Early in my career I made such a large amount of work that I had to break, repurpose or discard earlier sculptures just to make room for new ones. Every few months I began to see a change in my sculptures, it was thrilling. It happened in a very organic and honest way. To this day the same process happens, one series or body of work leads to the next. My ideas are endless but it was not always this way for me. Think about it…. repetition works! The more you make the more ideas you have. You figure out what works and what doesn’t.
I had a great conversation with a fellow artist this morning. He is a successful writer and we often share stories of our weekly trials and tribulations as creative independents. Today we spoke about Talent. There is so much talent out there. And some of the most talented artist in the world we will never see, read from or listen to. There may be many reasons for this, some seemingly random while others have to do with one’s tenacity and grit to push forward or not. It seems so random, why do some artists make it while equally talented artists do not? I wish I had an answer for you. Sometimes it boils down to being in the right place at the right time…or who you know. Yes, more often than not, it appears arbitrary and unfair. This is why understanding your role as a creative person in the grander picture is important. You make art because you have to….period! Do not let others around you make you question and doubt yourself….keep your expression clear and direct! You must ask yourself, Why did I choose this field? What do I expect to get out of this journey? Am I ready to fall and pick myself back up again? Do I make art to make money only or is it something I have to do?
Perhaps this last question may sound severe but to some of us it is not. I just finished curating an exhibition at the New Haven Museum of 6 refugee artists who resettled in New Haven after experiencing war, persecution, and imprisonment in their respective countries. When I took their testimonials about what art means to them, they unquestionably said that making art was the thing that gave them the strength to live . Powerful indeed, but we can share their same certainty. I do.
I love having groups of elementary students come to my studio and talk about art. I enjoy speaking about what a “normal” day of a artist entails and it is a lot like other professions where you show up to work on time, produce to the best of your ability that day, push through difficult challenges, celebrate the successes, and go home to return the next day and do it all over again. It’s not hanging out at the coffee shop all day and hoping an idea comes to you. You need to engage yourself…extend yourself…create…do it again and again. There is a reason why you chose art to major in. You have a tactile and visual way of understanding the world around you. Art that gets woven into the fabric of our world is real! It is as real as the lawyer arguing a death row case, or an ER doctor caring for a patient. Art is what helps us understand ourselves and the world around us. Art can be deeply effecting in its capacity to make change and help us understand who we are as a people.
So with that said my friends your job is not easy but boy is it Awesome!
When I begin a sculpture, I have no awareness that it may become a series or a body of work…it’s just a singular composition in front of me and it often begins with one small object or sensation which then leads and guides the rest of the sculpture….I never draw or plan out my work ahead of time, instead, I work in the moment… and draw inspiration from a very trusted part of myself that guides me without fail.
What I want to touch upon is a phenomenon or, as I like to call it, a ‘rhythm’ that guides me through the act of creating while simultaneously helping me connect to the world and people around me. They go hand in hand. Throughout my 20 years of sculpting I have found that life has a kind of call and response. The call may be the Visual, natural and emotional things we take in on a daily basis and the response is how we then turn around and put it back into our world. This, in its simplicity, has a rhythm to it. Someone might say….well, that’s just life….and I would say, yes, but if your awareness of such call and responses are so dulled, or if someone has not thought in these terms before, this precious connectedness may never be apparent, therefore never be acknowledged.
People might also write these connections off as being mere coincidences etc. And I too did this until I experienced these awesome connected occurrences over and over and over again. Such that it began to truly inform my art work. There are moments that I can see that call and response connectedness as clear as day and it will leave me weeping from its beauty…..or laughing out loud from its audacity. Someone else might say, all that happens to us is predetermined, it’s supposed to happen to you….you were meant to meet that person ect. And to that I would say, that is only half of the picture. We must complete the picture with a response or acknowledgement.
Sometimes it is not very easy to do this, especially when we are not used to seeing the world in this communicative way. And often times we are so burdened with our non-stop life styles that it is hard to pause for a moment…or even look up to see the hawk flying above you.
Humm.. I’m not very good at this Blog thing. My hands are too busy making things I guess. I decided to post an edited down version of the 2015 Arts Council award acceptance speech I gave back in Dec. It’s the real deal. Happy Spring
Since I was a very young child I knew I wanted to do a job someday that helped people and I drew the greatest pleasure while making things. At the age of twelve I fought with my parents daily to let me go to South Africa and fight against Apartheid. Ha this little white girl from Michigan…what was I going to do. I look back and can find so many examples of myself, conscious or not, following my intuitions and what inspired me. Young people in the audience take note!
Fast forward post college where I spent a three-year period working with abused and neglected children in the heart of Chicago. I thought I could make a difference…I wanted to make a difference, but after collapsing one day on Michigan Ave from burned nerves and fatigue I knew I had to find another way.
I made a tremendous decision that day to dive wholeheartedly into my art and I have never looked back since. I knew there had to be a way to combine my love for people and my natural abilities in art. For the next 8 years I taught an arts, job training program in Chicago Public schools that took me to the most disenfranchised communities in the city…I watched how art making made a huge impact with these kids who had little to no resources but plenty of enthusiasm and talent. This was my first experience seeing the true power of art. I embraced my gift and put it to work. 24 years later I have had the most remarkable journey anyone could ask for.
Making Art fills me up. It has given me the tools and strength to give back in very meaningful ways to my community and the world at large.
Like anyone else, however, I too have those days where I go to my studio and I feel down, and question what it is that I am doing. A quote from Martha Graham always helps me out. She says
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
The thing that helps me most to stay focused is to go back and find those poignant moments in my career where I am completely convinced that I am doing what I was put on this earth to do. One such convincing moment was when a father of a 6 yr. old who was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre called me up after seeing a quiet memorial I had made in honor of the children and teachers who died. He told me how unimaginably difficult this was for all the parents and that my work of art was a peaceful and beautiful image that they held onto to get through. I wept for days after that; not only for their loss but also for the gratitude I had for the power of art.
“Art is not, like science, logic of references but a release from references and rendition of immediate experience: a presentation of forms, images, or ideas in such a way that they will communicate, not primarily a thought or even a feeling, but an impact.” Joseph Campbell
I guess the term impact is what I’ve always called a raw response to something. I use the term raw quite often and I think what I’m referring to is that guttural…non-cerebral part of how we create and see. It is the primary source I draw from to make my work. I understand what Joseph Campbell means by impact, it’s when you feel like you were punched in the gut after seeing, hearing, reading something so raw, so honest it hurts. It takes us to a place that is beyond words, a primal place within ourselves.
Thinking along these lines makes me think about a dilemma I have had to contend with for many years. While I am making a sculpture, I ask myself when I should stop. Have I articulated enough to translate my idea? Does the amount of gesture/expression the sculpture poses create an impact or is it overdone, spelled out and too literal? Usually when I begin asking myself these questions it’s already too late; I’ve let outside influences and doubt in my consciousness instead of letting the work just be. I figure most representational artists go through this at some point in their lifetime. We don’t know we’ve gone too far until it’s too late and we’ve ruined a painting or sculpture because we’ve articulated too much. The older I get…the hungrier I am for less detail.
Why? Well I think too much is given away immediately to the viewer…they don’t need to sit with the work and absorb it or translate it for themselves. There is little room for magic. I am my 5 year olds student right now, he has no idea I am watching him make art, holding my breath when he takes huge broad and bold strokes with his oil stick. His art making is totally free. The compositions are incredible…it is the only work I will fall to sleep looking at on my bedroom wall. Perhaps this yearning for raw art making, if you will, is what attracts me to Folk Art, Art Brute and children’s art. It is simply as honest as you can get and it is powerful.
So, I find myself in the situation where Picasso was in which he said, “As we all know it is difficult to unlearn something but if impact is what we’re after, then I say never stop trying.