In the art room, I often tell my students not to be afraid to create and experiment. I aim to acquaint them with the idea that no one is the same so not to try and be anything other than what you are in your style and ideas. I also remind them that there are no mistakes ultimately when it comes to art, and if you don’t like how something is going, seek to learn from it and altar it to suit what you are envisioning. However, I empathise with them when I sit down to my own table and wonder what the heck I am doing? Crazy, right? You would think that by winning art awards during my school years, time at art college and countless hours in the art room teaching others, that I would have built enough confidence not to feel this way on occasion. I guess it is something that I will have to continue to work through as it can stop me from doing part of what I believe I was created to do…Create.
In this post, I want to expound on what art is to me, what keeps me from doing it and the results of when I do create. Maybe you can relate or maybe you could help me out! During my school years, I definitely romanticised art and the life of the artist. The artwork with all its grandeur hanging up in the silent and contemplative walls of some very important museum. The ‘starving’ artist so deep within their work that when they do come out for the cups of coffee from their favourite cafe, the evidence of their labour is colourfully exhibited on their hands. I really enjoyed the art history of the Leaving Cert curriculum and mapped out to visit Paris, Rome and London to view some of the greats that I had studied. And great they were in all their beauty and splendor.
Then there was art college and I’m still trying to ruminate all that I learned and saw there about art. It broke down and redefined what I considered art. I became more open to the forms that art encompasses, and I began to think more about the thoughts behind the piece as opposed to trying to figure out how it was composed. I considered how artists went from within the walls of art college to inside those ‘important’ galleries and museums. I suppose that by romanticising the art and the artist in such a way previously, that it removed me from feeling like an artist myself and I wasn’t quite sure how I was to fit into this scene. Even now, I think about being an artist and what that looks like to me if it doesn’t involve having my own studio space, buried arm deep in paint and sipping wine every week at all the exhibition openings. Am I still an artist if my everyday life includes going to work (at school or with the youth) and then having to do all the other things that life requires? But I think the key is those few free minutes during the days of routine where you find the moments for a creative outlet -let it be knitting in front of the tv, or challenging yourself to five minute sketches to illustrate an image that stuck out for you during the week.
So who am I now as an artist- as I teach or as I spend time working alongside of youth? I still feel uncomfortable at times, using that word to describe myself… artist. I even feel like a ‘fake’ when I put that to my name. However, I must remind myself that an artist creates, so if I’m spending moments of my time drawing, painting, taking photos then indeed I am creating and therefore I am an artist. An artist isn’t defined by the number of exhibitions they hold ( please feel free to read my February post on the exhibition I held called They Speak For Themselves. ) They are certainly not defined by the amount their work is sold for. In fact the Oxford Dictionary describes the artist as someone who creates as a profession or as a hobby. Therefore, reader, going by that definition would you consider yourself an artist? Have you set any barriers in believing that an artist is one thing and you don’t fall into that category, as I have done? My routine has changed a good bit the past two years. Last year, after a day at school, I would sometimes come home and paint. On the weekends, I got ready for the Christmas Craft fair and my sister in law and I would spend some time designing cards. During the summer vacation, I went to Teenstreet and worked in Artzone, facilitating teens with the opportunity to explore various art mediums. It was especially then that I had to remind myself that I am an artist and get over the fact that as I worked on a mural, hundreds of spectators passed through-something that makes me very uncomfortable. In light of all of this, an artist isn’t defined either by the amount of time that they spend creating during their week, the only criteria is the creation process whatever that may look like. What does that look like for you?
When it comes down to the actual creating process for me, the excuse is always there “Oh I just don’t have much time to create anything.” Sometimes this is true and sometimes I hide behind it because I am afraid. I don’t really know what makes me so apprehensive to start an art project or piece of work. Perhaps it is because I feel lacking in ideas and it isn’t such a great place to be in when you are actually itching to create but don’t know where to start. One of the most memorable lectures in art college was when we were told that we were going to make a lot of terrible stuff, but it doesn’t matter as long as you are creating. We were promised that if we did so that one day something will happen amongst all the ‘mistakes and mishaps’ and you will find that little gem. I thought that this was a great encouragement to experiment in my art practices and learn through the things that go wrong. I believe that life can be somewhat like this too if we are open to learning from the things that come our way and the things that we pursue. Another factor that intimidates me about creating is that I am not good enough or talented enough. I could never draw or paint like so and so. And how did they come up with that idea? I could never come up with something as clever or thought provoking as that! What lies. I know they are lies and yet I still choose to live by them. In fact, I’m actually allowing fear to stop me (again, read my post on When Fear is Crippling to hear more of my thoughts on that subject). It comes in the various forms such as’What if I create something that is unpleasant and I fail miserably in trying to portray what I am envisioning?’. The answer: take the elements that did work and carry them through and try again. Take the elements that don’t quite work and see what you can altar or discard from this. Art is a process. Masterpieces are not made in one single instance and perhaps our instantaneous society puts that pressure on us. We must give time and space for the process to develop. ‘What if I am criticised and no one likes it?’ Art is an illustration or expression of your perspective. Since we are all different, we might not like the same things. So I have had to say to myself that although it feels personal because it is my perspective that I have put out there, that not everyone has to respond to it in the same way that I do. I need to grow some thicker skin for what seems like rejection. Imagine if the Impressionist had given up after they were deeply criticised for branching off with their colourful brushwork? ‘What if my idea isn’t as thought provoking or my art isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as so and so’s?’ Art can be about learning from others and building a mental catalogue of images, styles and techniques that influence and inspire us. Art is not suppose to be a competition about who is the most influential, thought-provoking or inspiring. I have certainly made it into this at times and it will have a negative effect on your confidence and thus on your work. ‘What if I don’t get the time for it?’ As we have already touched on the subject of time, I just want to add about being intentional. I remember going to an artist group last year and they discussed about whether inspiration comes to us spontaneously or whether it has to be worked on. I think the main thing that I brought away from that is simply being intentional in the time that we do set aside and see if those moments of Ah-Ha! come along, and if they don’t to continue to produce. Continue to produce not as a robot or out of guilt. Produce because you were created to create, because by doing so it will birth purpose,expression and bring to fruition more than what appears in front of your eyes. Why do I make such excuses to stop me from creating, knowing that when I do create, I feel relaxed, purposeful, happy and released. How do you feel when you create?
I do not think that creating art is my sole and main purpose. I do not necessarily live and breathe it, although it is much on my mind. As a Christian, I think my purpose is so much more but I do think that God has made me as an individual and He can use these things to express and connect with Him, as well as with those around me. He is the great Creator, the First Artist and we are made in His image. So when I spending time creating, I know that it pleases Him that I am using gifts that He has given me and He gives me those feelings I mentioned above as a result.
One more point I want to briefly mention is that I believe that everyone is creative in some way. Would you agree with this? Just because you don’t draw or paint, doesn’t mean that you lack creativity? I walk into homes and know that whoever decorated it had an eye for layout and colours. I hear someone tapping a beat or humming in their office and expressing themselves through song. I see the teen snapping a photo and adding twenty filters to it. I smell a delicious treat baking in the oven with a presentation that makes your mouth water. Well all of that is creating too. Picasso once said that:
What do you think about this?
While I am here in Oamaru, I am embarking on a new multi-media project with the youth. Last week, I stood up in front of some of the teens and spoke about the idea to meet on a monthly basis and work towards creating a body of work to exhibit at the end of the year (hopefully!). Those aren’t the exact words that I used but that was the jest of things. As I’m speaking, I can’t help but wonder what was going through their heads. I want to stir an excitement and openness to experiment through various media, and not to be afraid to do so. So how can I do this? Perhaps, it is by being honest with them and telling how even an art teacher can have the same reserved feelings in approaching a new art task. I’m sure I will learn along the way what will work in creating such an environment and what won’t. (I admit that I did try to entice them with promises to do activities such as Balloon Dart Painting, cause surely everyone thinks that is fun,right?) I will have to update you along the way with all that unfolds but till then I hope that some of these thoughts have helped you question and perhaps define what art is to you and whether you were created to create!