Tuesday, June 12, 2012

take the time

Another week has gone by in the life of my France residency. I've been wrestling with all kinds of fear. Fear that time is going by too quickly and all the things I want to make will not get made while I am here.  And then, fear that I seem to care more about getting down to the beach every day than I do about making stuff. Where's my drive, my ambition? In the face of a clear blue sea, I have neither.

the beach at golfe-juan, 8 am
I realize that this residency is all about tapping into another well of work, but not today (pas aujourd'hui) . And not tomorrow either (et pas demain) (Sorry, but these are actually phrases I've learned from my French audio tapes.) Maybe next month, or at the end of the summer, or some other time that takes place in the future. I like the idea of letting go of the need to tap my well, the creative reserve.

 After a few days of waffling around last week, and feeling some guilt that I was working on my tan instead of ideas, I figured out that it is best to just stay in the moment. Open the mind and heart, that's all.
picasso in antibes
While I'm at the beach, it's another opportunity to observe the French culture in action. There is one thing I really love about the beaches around here: they are pretty packed with people, but they are very quiet. French people, in general, are very quiet compared to Americans.  That's not a big surprise. I notice the same thing at restaurants. The place where I live with the other artists-in-residence is right next door to a very busy and popular restaurant, and dinner service can easily go past 11 or 12 at night. But again, the patrons are so low-key that I often fall asleep to the sound of French voices, babbling so quietly that it almost sounds like a stream or a fountain. Very soothing.

rae and chris at cafe du coin
I love the pace of eating in a restaurant in France.  Lunch usually runs for 2 hours, easily. Dinner can go for 3- 4 hours. And the staff expects that pace, there is no hurry to flip your table, that's not how they clock it. As an American, the pace can be a little disconcerting at first, because we are used to very fast and attentive service, and if you have no idea what to expect, it can seem like you are being ignored. Mais non, that's not the case at all. You are being allowed to take your time, the biggest luxury and gift that you can ever be given.

When the residents all go out for dinner, we've started making it a game to see how French we can be with our eating habits.  To make a dinner last for 3+hours, you have to take a tiny bite of food, and then put your fork down while you chew.  When you are done chewing, you talk for a bit.  Then you take sip of wine and talk some more. Then, another small bite.  Food usually comes out pretty slowly too, and in courses, so you are not suddenly flooded with a big plate of food. We were very proud of ourselves last night: we were seated at 8:15 for a special dinner of bouillabaisse, and we walked out of there way past midnight, outlasting all the French people who were seated around the same time. I may not go home with any new work, but I will definitely go home with a new approach to how I'm serving Thanksgiving this year.

studio, neglected


  1. Hey Whitney,

    This sounds like a wonderful experience, and I have no doubt that it will eventually pay off in the studio as well.

    Sometimes the most important creative project we can have is working on our own self. Sometimes the greatest change we can make is changing our attitudes, our beliefs about which things matter, and our ability to see things differently. Just soaking in a new culture can give us that change. Every time we experience something new, digest it, and then manifest it in some way in our lives we are evolving. Being open to new experiences is sometimes the most important thing we can do. How else do we get from childhood to being an adult? The other option is to close ourselves off, settle for what we have, and refuse to change.... Sometimes we decide to keep things the same, but is there really ever a right moment to stop evolving?

    So it sounds like you HAVE been working. Living in a different culture is hard work when we let it affect us. There is so much to absorb, so much to make sense of. And all this work we do simply gestates for as long as it takes, and then it arrives in our art like a gift from the gods. You may not think you are doing a lot of work, not being in the studio so much, but you are preparing the groundwork. You are laying the foundation for great things to happen. That is, if you are willing to take advantage of all these new things you are learning. Everything you have seen, touched, and tasted is a part of the new you.

    It may even have been important not to have done much clay work. Doing something familiar encourages us to find the comfort zone, to rely on habits and deeply ingrained preferences. If you had just stayed in the studio you may have come away from this trip with nothing but the same pots you've been making all along. And no new experiences. So its probably a GOOD thing that you avoided it. Think of all the new experience you did get to have by immersing yourself in something different. You had just this one chance to explore these mysteries and you took it. You did the right thing, I think!

    And as all these potential influences work their way around your thoughts and feelings you may find that you are now so different that its a struggle to go back to being who you were. In some respects you are much the same. But you HAVE been changed, and its up to you how fully you will let this be expressed in your studio. When you are ready. Your experience has been an education. It can't help but be transformative. Just what will you decide to make when the time comes? Can you ignore the new things you have learned? Do you want to? Are you finished exploring these new mysteries?

    Good luck! I'm glad you are having fun!

  2. Hi Carter, thanks for the comment, and for completely giving me a rational basis for not working while I am here! :) I definitely hear what you are saying about if I forced it, I may just find myself in familiar territory, which is exactly what has happened with 99% of what I've made here. I'm okay with it, because I'm not pushing the production angle, just making some things so I can have SOMEthing in the gallery show. It's the 1% that I feel more deeply about, and we will see where it goes later.

  3. take your time, it's all grist for the mill. Your post is making me miss not being in Europe right now. We used to spend our late summers in Belgium when my husband worked there. The first thing I always noticed when I got back to the states was how loud everyone is and how the television was screaming the news at me. thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

  4. I agree sometimes its the little things that you absorb from another culture that spring out of your work in unexpected ways. I always think travel broadens the mind!

  5. enjoy the moment.....smiles