This afternoon, I got a poetry challenge from my lovely Aunt Stephie – a poet and artist all around wonderful human being. Having had the gauntlet thrown at me, here is my answer to the title “Lost” written in 30 minutes…..
The last I saw the green ones
they were on the kitchen table near
the red cup with the peace sign
full of cold coffee.
I noticed them
because I knew I would need them
later to thread the sewing machine.
It’s really the progressives that I want though
so that I can see the expiration date
on the milk that got pushed to the back
of the refrigerator
and still identify whose dog is currently eating
the compost while I’m looking out the window.
I remember leaving the pair of tortoiseshells
in my pocket so that I would always have
them if I couldn’t find the others
but that was last week
and the wash has been done since then.
I started listening this week to a series of lectures given by Eric Maisell on living your best life in the arts. I listen in the car to make sure that I am a captive audience and my only distractions are the intrusions of my own daily thoughts and the traffic. It is proving to be both revealing and very thought provoking.
The revealing part is how often my mind wanders to the trivia that I apparently think that I need to attend to even during the half hour that I am on the road, listening to something that I am truly engaged in. More on that later.
This morning I decided that the intrusive thoughts might have distracted me enough so that I didn’t hear everything Eric had to say and that I should listen again.
There is a point in the lecture where he says that the truth is that most artists never fully show up and do the work we need to do. Most of us don’t treat ourselves well, we don’t take care of ourselves so that we can be the best in our lives. We need to prove ourselves to be the exception.
How will I prove myself? How will I be the exception to the rule? My first thought is how much work and commitment it will take. That makes me tired and want to sit in front of the fire with another book on how to do this.
So – this morning on the way to work, as I am listening to the lecture again I am struck by something that I didn’t hear the first time. As Eric is answering a question from someone about starting a practice setting aside time to work every morning (he calls this morning practice), he says that you have to find what works for you to make it happen – “figure out what the work is that fits in the morning” try to find “what works in that time” but you must do “the actual creating”. Whoa – so this makes sense to me! The first part of proving myself to be the exception has to be finding a way to make it work with the resources that I have – who I am, the time that is available to me, the people I surround myself with.
For me, I think this looks like getting up at 5 and using my morning time for planning my projects. I will put my “moveable studio” – the bag that is always packed with my sketchbook, paints, pencils and so on – beside my chair where I have coffee in the morning. I will use this morning hour to elaborate on ideas, plan projects and get set up so that when I have longer periods of time to use, I will be ready to work.
To prove myself to be the exception to the rule, I have to find a way to work with myself instead of against myself. I have to understand what it means to take thoughtful care of myself. I have to then give myself permission to take care of myself every minute of every day in a thoughtful way.
The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.
When I first read that quote, many years ago, it made me furious. I took it to mean that to be an artist you had to have been given the gift of talent or vision or some such nonsense, and I make it a personal crusade in my life to tell everyone I know that yes, you too can learn to draw or paint or whatever it is you want.
Of course not being given “the gift” is a great excuse for not leaping into the next adventure. I, for instance cannot sing. I wasn’t given “the gift” and so I sing in the car, in the shower, in the woods, alone at home and anywhere else I am absolutely sure that I will not be heard. I sing loudly and with great feeling. In my head, I sound great! I should be on stage! If anyone overheard me I would be sure to be discovered! A musical friend told me a while ago that anyone could be taught to sing. Did I believe him? Absolutely ….….well………let’s just say, I agreed with him and told him about my own crusade and continued to sing in private.
Do I believe I could learn to sing? Sure – if I wanted to spend lots of time in front of a piano, doing scales or whatever you do when you have voice lessons, I could probably learn to sing. Do I want to? The part of me that belts out show tunes in the shower desperately wants to be on stage and have that audience loving me and asking for more. It looks like so much fun. So what is the problem here?
There is another part of me that loves making things more than singing (and heck, if I’m honest here, when I turn the radio up, I can sing while I make things!). And what about that gift? I don’t have a great gift for drawing. I don’t have a great gift for painting or sculpting or even printmaking. What I do have is a passion. I can get up at 6:00 in the morning and have to leave the house for work at 7:15 and find 15 minutes to set up a plate or lay down a bit of color so that I will have something to come home to that afternoon. I miss it when I am not making something. I think about what I am going to make next. I plan my ideas. Sometimes I dream about what I am going to do next. My ideas are often lined up behind the time I have to actually commit them to paper.
When I look at that quote again, I see that the “gift” – at least for me – is not the innate talent to do something easily or well, it is instead the passion for doing the thing and the pleasure that I derive from the making that is my gift. And the work? In this second half of my life, I am finding that I have a passion for the work that is new to me. I am not so easily discouraged if something comes hard. I find that if I push myself to practice, to do the hard work that it takes to be deliberate about my art, I am blessed with a different kind of gift, one that I have given myself.
Earlier this week, I had dinner with some of my art friends. It was our monthly meeting of dinner, wine and show and tell. One of us works at her art full time. The rest of us juggle full time jobs and children along with the precious time that we carve out to make things. As we were talking, my full time art friend said something that I knew was true but didn’t really understand in a visceral sort of way until recently. Her comment was that no matter how many ideas we have, and how technically able we are, we can’t be our best at what we do unless we practice.
Duh….but you have to understand that in my world, things come easily. I got good grades in school without studying, I was an average musician without practicing and I was good at my various jobs by being able to make quick decisions. Doing things was easy. Practicing was hard. It meant doing something more than once. It meant paying attention to the details of things and it meant being deliberate in the decisions that you made.
So why am I thinking about practice now? I’m not quite sure. I do know that I have started “practicing” my art. This week, I made 3 prints using the same colors and the same design. I tried hard to see them with new eyes. What could be different? How did I manage to make that mark that I really like on that one? Why is this one more appealing than the first one? What is it about the color that I love or hate?
It makes a difference. It makes a big difference.
In printmaking, especially monotypes, I love the surprises or unexpected “gifts” that come as I lay the ink on my plate or pull the print. But, as an artist, I am not just a receptacle for gifts that come by chance. I have a responsibility to myself and my vision to work at my art, make deliberate decisions about what I am doing and after that, then, I can understand and accept the gifts that come through the practice of my work.