Van Gogh & the Question of Audience

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” Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney and then go on their way. So now what are we to do, keep this fire alive inside, have salt in ourselves, wait patiently, but with how much impatience, await the hour, I say, when whoever wants to, will come and sit down there, will stay there, for all I know? “

Vincent Van Goghletter to his brother Theo, June 24, 1880

I read this quote by Van Gogh last week on Austin Kleon’s blog last week which inspired the question of the value of audience.

Before I started to blog this year, I wrote in comfortable anonymity in a small leather bound journal for an audience of one- me.  Then I started my blog as a “must do” to help promote my visual art online.  This intention swiftly changed after I published my first blog post “You Just Start.”  To my amazement, I heard a little chime shortly after I hit the post button letting me know that one blogger had “liked” my post.  I was floored.  Really I had expected nothing, but the fact that my writing connected with someone emboldened post-impressionist-1424183_1920me to share more of my personal writing.

Several posts later I received my first follower which amazed me even more.  Then I began to join in the community by liking, commenting, & following others blogs.  As I have been building my audience, I have been an audience to others, adding such a rich dimension to my creative life.  Having an audience has been an affirmation that my creative expression has value to not only myself but to others.

Still, no matter what, I need to create with satisfying the audience of my own soul as my first priority.  When I create with the intention just to please others, my work seems hollow. That’s when I feel the most despair if no one “comes to my table.”  I will continue to write with or without an audience.  Luckily I don’t need to make money post-impressionist-1428128_1920from my writing and I will savor any audience that comes my way. The important thing is I be brave and share my work.

Van Gogh stayed true to his artistic vision even though he was penniless.  During his lifetime he never sold one painting.  He could have painted in the style of the day to generate income. What courage that took and we are so much the beneficiaries of that courage years after his death.  If only knew what a genius he was.  If only he could have experienced his audience.

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ESCAPING PERFECTIONISM

Perfectionism is a like having a raucous little beast, its claws firmly embedded in your 8f878f17bf65dcfb17b8b14daa544668shoulder, whispering in your ear that your work is not good enough. You need to try harder. You need to do more for it to pass muster. But you’re never quite satisfied and you’re filled with lingering doubt about the value of your work, and worse, yourself. It is the enemy of creativity. When I speak of perfectionism, I am not equating it with the precision required of a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist. This kind of perfectionism does not lead to positive outcomes. It often goes hand in hand with unhappiness & anxiety.

Looking at my work now, one would never know that I am a recovering perfectionist. My work is often playful, spontaneous, & made of torn paper or clay forms that have intentionally been altered or misshapen in some way. I gravitate towards the asymmetrical & wonky shapes that you might find in a Dr. Suess book. It’s my private rebellion against perfection. In a round- about way, I’m rejecting the notion that our bodies must conform to a perfect ideal as celebrated by our culture.

The seeds of my perfectionism developed during my teenage years. I suffered from some misaligned parenting that left me carrying a heavy backpack of low self-esteem into my adulthood. The message I internalized from frequent criticism was that I was not good enough. As a result, I became critical of myself & began down the path of perfectionism to compensate.

Perfectionists often set themselves up for failure- or perceived failure. It made sense that one of my first art forms was calligraphy. To make proper letter forms, one has to be quite exacting. I strove to achieve the strictest proportions with my work, often starting over & over. Eventually, my body started to give me signals that made me begin to question my perfectionism. I developed carpal tunnel syndrome & neck & back pain. This started a period of intense self-examination since I was suffering from depression as well.

It took months of therapy and hard work on my part to begin to free myself from the grip that low self- esteem had on my psyche. I started taking medication to treat my depression.  Eventually, my perfectionism began to dissipate. Now I practice “imperfectionism.” This does not mean I am into sloppy craftsmanship, but rather that when I have expressed what I’ve needed to express I stop, walk away and declare it done. The little flaws that remain, unnoticed to others but myself, are no longer deal breakers. They are the marks that a human hand made Wave pot1the piece & not a machine.

I keep an awareness about me when I am working lest my evil little beast lands on my shoulder again. If my mood shifts from a positive one to anxiety, I start to question the motives in my work & refocus. It’s a great time to get up, flick the beast off & take a break.

The creative process should bring happiness. If your perfectionism is robbing you of that, it’s time to think about where it came from. Check out the books by Keri Smith such as Mess, The Manual of Accidents & Mistakes to loosen you up. Adopt the practice of “imperfectionism” & experience the joy you deserve.

The Creative Bone in Your Body

 

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My first pot at 40 years old.

One of the most common complaints I hear as an art teacher and in conversation with others in the realm of art is “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Here’s the news…… you don’t have creative bones in your body. You have creative muscles. Whereas bones (at least in adults) don’t change much, muscles are changeable and can be strengthened.

We were all born creative beings. The problem with many is that their creativity was not nurtured either at home or at school or both. Then there is that nasty aspect of self-consciousness that creeps in as we grow-up. Still, creativity can persist in sneaky ways. I ask people to look at the manner they dress, decorate their house, garden, cook, parent, solve problems at work & so forth. It’s there waiting to be manifested.

Now if you are hungering to express yourself in the arts, you have to be willing to endure

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Later work

the painful practice of getting your creative muscles in shape after years of disuse. Just like getting yourself in good physical condition it can be uncomfortable & discouraging. But “show up” on a regular basis & you will get stronger, confident and feel good about yourself. No one learned how to play a musical instrument without regular practice and one will not sound very good at first. Even among those individuals who were born with any inherent talent from music to athletics, most need some kind of training & practice to succeed. Artists are no exception.

Give yourself permission to start. My childhood talent got unleashed at 40 when the instructor of my 5-year-old son’s clay class agreed to let me be a part of the class. There is nothing like being around a bunch of uninhibited kindergartners to unleash your creative force. Twenty some odd years later I am still a ceramic artist.

My advice to those eager to flex their creative muscles? Go take an art class. Best yet, sit in on a children’s class. Treat art as an inquiry, not a means for a finished product. Don’t judge yourself & allow for the messy, fun process of being a beginner.
taw-25-coverOne book that was my biggest cheerleader on my creative path was Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. All her books on creativity are fabulous but this one will help get you motivated. Now go forth & enjoy the journey.

Air Plant Love

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Imagine you are a plant and you don’t need roots to tether you to the Earth.  Instead you live in a cluster of other like-minded individuals, anchored in the canopies of trees & bushes in tropical & sub-tropical habitats. You have a great view with the company of birds & other tree dwelling animals. Forgoing roots, you inhale nutrients from soft breezes & the rain since you have developed trichomes, specialized structures on your leaves to do so. What looks like roots at your base  are actually anchors that  hold you to another tree or shrub. Like any other plant you can flower & make seeds but additionally you can produce “pups,”vegetative clones from your base.

 

Welcome to air plants, genus Tillandsia of the Bromeliad family (pineapples are bromeliads).  There are approximately 650 types of Tillandsias that exist. They are the nonconformists of the plant world- maybe that’s why I love them. I had been vaguely aware of these plucky little plants from displays in specialty stores. My minor in college was botany I I always considered myself a plant geek. Then one of my 6th grade science students gave me an air plant on a holder that his mother made from a rock, wire & beads.  Instantly I was smitten.   iron Rockin airplant CR

I began to imagine the possibilities of other artistic applications to combine with air plants.   That was my last year of teaching before retirement.  I was looking for some kind of artistic endeavor to immerse myself in post teaching that could tie in my numerous interests and perhaps generate some additional income. Thus I created ArtisanAirplants, a creative business endeavor where I could combine my work in ceramics & found objects with Tillandsias. Up went an Etsy shop and entry into art shows.Tilly flower 3

Some months later I found myself with 200 or so of these unique plants that looked like they could have escaped from another planet.   I started designing pieces designed for a certain species of air plant in mind. Many of my ceramic air plant holders are intentionally twisted & bent playing off the whimsical qualities of the plants. My work often reminds people of something out of a Dr. Suess landscape.  I also like to juxtapose them with non- natural objects such as vintage tools & hardware.

On travels around Oregon & beyond I am always on the lookout for what universe has to offer me for my art. You might find me frequenting thrift stores & garage sales for unusual accessories. My kayak & backpack will often be loaded down with rocks and other interesting pieces of flotsam & jetsam to use for pieces. Treasure hunting is an integral part of my artistic process.

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If you are a plant lover, one great thing about Tillandsias are that they are so small that you can have lots of them. They adorn several of my window sills, walls, and hang over my kitchen sink.  I have a living bathroom “curtain” made of Spanish moss. Kids love them.  I tell my kid customers that they are easier to take care of than a hamster.Deer SKull PE 3 crop

There is a sad misconception that abounds that Tillandsias need  little or no care. If you do decide to bring air plants into your home, please be aware that they need carecropped-monklady-1 similar to a  houseplant, ie proper lighting, ventilation, & watering.  The main difference is that since they forgo soil, you need to water them by soaking & misting.  Avoid buying from big box stores as they don’t know how to care for them properly.  You best bet is a specialty plant store or an online air plant company.  

Consider them the next time you go to buy a gift, for a loved one or yourself.  They will make happy company.

 

 

My Escape From Social Media

twitter-292994_1280It all started with my decision to sell my artwork online.  I spent hours setting up my shop on Etsy, learning how to photograph my artwork, figuring out shipping and then posting listings.  Now I began the hard work of self-promotion so that my little enterprise could get found among the virtual soup that contained thousands of others.

My three new “how to” books on the subject all instructed me to start setting up social media accounts, get involved in forums, start posting, liking & commenting on a regular basis.  This activity would eventually lure customers to my site, hopefully to buy.

Previous to this, as a Baby boomer I was quite happy with my life in the tangible world and saw no need to be a party to the social media craze.  Nevertheless, trying to be open-minded, I set up the necessary Facebook & Instagram accounts to start and took the plunge.  I started posting regularly. Unfortunately the prescribed practice of liking and commenting just to build a following seemed very sleazy to me so I dragged my feet on that.  Then there were the apps that will like & share for you. Really? You can buy likes? No thanks.
Then suddenly, a Pandora’s Box of distractions was open to my brain.  My somewhat ADD personality quickly became hostage to this mysterious world on the other side of the screen.  I found myself constantly checking my posts & listings to see how many likes or comments they got. It was hard to tell myself from the other scrollers & tappers that were everywhere I looked. Who was this Pavlovian creature I had become?

Then recently, after over a year of this grand experiment, I realized that this whole exercise was sucking away too much time energy from my creative process.  I had a few online sales but not enough to warrant all the effort. More so, my heart was just not into it & I wanted relief from the distraction.

instagram-1474232_1280It was an easy fix.  I deleted the Facebook & Instagram apps off my phone & IPad.  It took a couple of days for my mind to feel free of the social media sirens calling my name.  I could be fully present again.  My Instagram, Facebook & Etsy accounts are still active.  The difference is that I manage them rather than them managing me.  I peek in twice a week now either post &
then check for responses.

There was one social media platform that was left to me to try- blogging.  About a month ago I put this blog up just to give it ago.  The self- promotion goal I had for blogging instantly dissipated as I rekindled my love of self-expression through writing. What a nice surprise WordPress has been!  Here is this great community of interesting people I can interact with.  Now I am  writing, reading, & commenting on others blogs because I want to, not because I should. This online experience continues to be meaningful in contrast to hollow exercises I had been pursuing on Facebook and Instagram.blk-goddess-front

My Etsy shop languishes as my desire for screen time has waned.  Currently my internet store & social media accounts mostly serve as virtual portfolios for shows I enter.  It appears that I am not cut out as an online entrepreneur. I’ve realized that selling my art in person offers me more  financial & emotional rewards than the world of online commerce can offer. Back to the real world of face to face relationships & writing just for the love of writing. No regrets.

P.S. For what it’s worth,  since you’re here, here are links to my social media accounts…..

Etsy

Instagram

Facebook

 

On Finding Inspiration

 

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There is a magic in the creative process.  When I am totally in the  “zone,“ it seems as though some divine force plants a seed of inspiration into my psyche & leads me on a journey to bring from the ethos something new & different into the world.  Generally I need to be in a space where I am fully present-  at least with my own thoughts.  I don’t necessarily have to be in my studio.  Often inspiration comes on a walk or doing something as innocuous as washing dishes or weeding the garden.  At this point it is important for me to get the idea either in process immediately or at least written down, for inspiration can be as ephemeral as fairy dust in a breeze.

Sometimes I must plant a seed myself if nothing has been offered from above.  I keep a list spirit-of-g-r-horse-qeof concepts that fascinate me.  For example, a few of my favorites are migration, germination, metamorphosis & salmon.  I will make a list of every sub-concept  I can think of that has to do with that topic, pick a few & then tie them together into a piece.  The Illustrations that are shown in this post are from a triptych titled “The Spirit of Ghost Ranch.”  In these mixed media pieces, my goal was to embody different aspects of Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in Northern New Mexico where I  visit to take art classes & spiritually recharge most summers.

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Then there are times I must “prime the pump” for ideas.  One of my favorite hunting grounds is Pinterest.I can get inspiration from other artists & pin them to my own “board” for reference https://www.pinterest.com/wildntotions/.   One of the beauties of the Pinterest algorithm is that it will suggests similar pins that may be of interest to you, leading you down a rabbit hole of endless possibilities.  I can also prowl about blogs, and storefront galleries as well.  My go to guide when I am in a rut is the book, “Steal Like an Artist,” By Austin Kleon.  It’s maybe an hour read and so very encouraging
and inspirational.  If you need a tow truck, this is your go to guide. I refer to it over and over again.51b3zefka3l-_sx258_bo1204203200_

For the most part I work intuitively.  I just start putting down a scrap of paper,  a stencil, a swish of paint, sentence , or start to work a lump of clay  as bait for my muse.  Once I start down the creative path, I follow the breadcrumbs that she has left to tell me where to go next.  I know that if I am tired or stressed it not the right time for creative work- just like you don’t plant tender seedlings in bad weather.  Now it’s time to do something mindless & let my subconscious work in the background.

It’s all a mesmerizing journey of faith but it works- if you give yourself permission to let go & play.

 

THE SPACES IN-BETWEEN

Years ago a teacher once said to me when I was a student in an art class, “You should consider not using so much white space.” I looked at her incredulously.  Yes, my work pinned to the critique wall was markedly different than the wild expressions of the other students’ work that filled the board.  Mine was made of pure forms with a lotchina-20152_1280of white space, or negative space surrounding them; the uncovered virgin-white paper a statement in itself.

For me that remark was something like “change your soul.”  It was similar to the shaming I received as a young girl from my mother “you are too sensitive.”  Growing up I struggled to fit in a loud world & embrace the social norms that my young culture revered.  The music was too loud, venues claustrophobic, & the presence of too many people intimidating.  I was a misfit among misfits.

The book that rocked my perceptions of myself was Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain .  Suddenly my quirkiness made sense to me.  I was an introvert.  My previous perceptions of introverts were individuals that were uncomfortable with all social interactions.  Not so.  Now I realize Introverts can be social & have many connections.  The difference is we need to retreat to quiet to achieve balance in our lives.

I liken these respites to the white spaces in my artwork, the spaces in between the active parts where the eye can rest.  These pauses are a time of rejuvenation and, in my life, can be anything from a walk, a nap, reading a book, walking my dogs, gardening – or anything that brings my being back from the chaos of daily life.  Conversely, now I understand why the extroverts of our society want to bring us introverts into the fold of busy-ness.  They thrive in that energy & the majority sets the standards of what is normal.

After reading “Quiet,” I learned to honor the introverts in my classroom when I was teaching. If a student felt uncomfortable working in a group I allowed them to work alone. As long as they were learning, I was fine with their style.   I’ve learned to honor my own pace when traveling or hiking rather than suffering to keep up with wants of others.  For me it’s not the destination but the jewels I find in-between point A & point B.  That might be as simple as a flower, a rock, or a conversation with a local.

Our driven multitasking culture celebrates doing more than being.  It would be healthy everyone, to slow down and find oneself in the spaces in between & honor those who march to a different beat. The magic for me is in the white space of life.  In these pauses I can ponder, wonder, & feel whole in a world that moves at too fast of a pace for my tastes.  It’s been a relief to let go of the expectations of others & accept myself.  In the meantime, I still enjoy making art with a lot of white space.