Thursday, June 06, 2013

art demons

I have been easing myself very slowly back into some creative projects the past few weeks. Gardening has so taken over my life that doing any kind of "making" has not been an activity I've been engaged with at all. Since making, doing, and creating is so much of my identity, not doing any of those things has created a strange absence in my life, but I don't feel empty.

I have not been working in my own studio, but in Rae's studio across town. Rae is gone for 6 weeks doing the France residency again, and she is generously allowing me to use her studio as my own while she is gone. I asked her for this favor because  every time I walked into my studio, my only impulse was to turn around and walk back out again.  Right now, my studio is a space that represents all of this struggle, and I don't want to be there. It's oppressive.

Rae's studio, on the other hand, is a wide open and beautiful space. As a practice, I've been going there every day, even if it's just for a couple of hours. Mostly, I've been doing paper cut art, which I have always loved and am currently totally obsessed with. I like to look at as many images as I can before bed so I can have paper cut dreams:

elsa mora
This image pretty well captures how I feel as a creative being right now: I'm sitting on all of this beautiful work I've made in the past, and I have all of this beautiful work ready to pop out of my imagination, but my arms are bound up, too connected to my head, and not my heart.  By the way, I wish I made this piece but I did not.  It's Elsa Mora, one of my paper cut heroes.

Paper cutting has made me come face to face with all of the demons I have created through my artwork.  Put a check next to the ones you have brought into your life:
  • That's not good enough, it needs to be better.
  • Don't waste your time on something that is going to suck when it's finished.
  • That's not matching the vision in your head-- start over.
  • You've spent six hours creating something that you will never be able to sell.
  • That's not as good as Elsa Mora, Peter Callesen, or Rob Ryan, so why are you even trying?
It's interesting having these thoughts while I'm paper cutting, which is basically a leisure activity for me and does not need to be perfect, go to market, or wind up anywhere other than the trash can or on my mother's refrigerator door.  The fact that I like to use artists who are at the top of their game in paper cutting as my own personal bar is not only ridiculous, but bordering on something else quite unhealthy.

I've sacrificed a lot of the joy I find in creating in search of perfection. I've known this for a while, and it has taken quite a toll on my ability to create work that I love. But recognizing this, naming it, and sharing it with you all feels like one little step toward healing.

 This one is mine, with thanks to Pema Chodron. I had to resist the urge to make this piece again, making it better, before I shared it with you. I may, however, take a better photograph of it.

13 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing that! That wall seems far too real when we hit it!! I love your paper cut art! ;) and I think we often forget that art is not a destination but a process! I only have to look at the kids I teach pottery to and experience their joy and wonder in their creations to remember that! (even if sometimes you can't sell it! lol!)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love the piece of paper art you did. Looks very well done to me!! And I like the sentiment too.

    Thank you for sharing. Painting is my leisure activity. AND- I'm guilty of every one of those demons! They're just awful. Banish those bastards.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey Whitney, I've been keeping my fingers crossed that you will find your way out of this situation and back to the intrinsic joys of the creative act itself. Sounds like you are finding a measure of this in your gardening and in cut paper projects.

    Finding it again in clay may be more difficult. You have so much history invested in a certain approach in the clay studio that picking it back up merely revisits all those habits that put you in this position in the first place. The extrinsic demands of the clay marketplace, the ideals of perfection, specific standards of craftsmanship, an ingrained and refined aesthetic sensibility, and getting paid for every project you take on, all these things make it difficult to ignore your 'normal' routine and start fresh without any of those expectations. Those ended up being the very priorities that made you walk through the studio doors everyday for so many years, so walking back through those same doors WITHOUT the burden of their pressure on you may seem almost impossible at the moment. I hope you find a way to try....

    There is a Psychology term that describes part of the situation that any artist faces when they decide to get paid for their art. Its called "the overjustification effect" and it points out the fallacy of thinking that getting paid for what we already enjoy doing is simply adding two positives together. Instead, getting paid for what we like doing tends to ruin or adversely affect the experience and actually provide reasons for NOT doing the activity any longer. A while back I wrote a post about this on my blog. You can check it out here:

    http://cartergilliespottery.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/riptides/

    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dear Whitney, you're a great artist. I love your papercut and I believe that you have the talent and skills to do anything you want, not only with clay and paper, but with any material. Creative crisis are good. They're opportunities for change and growth. Artists are constantly changing, questioning themselves, trying new things. Let yourself go through this process in a natural way. You are your own garden, you will never stop growing :)

    Elsita

    ReplyDelete
  6. Give yourself permission to make bad art, bad pottery, bad blog posts, bad decisions. I have taken screenwriting classes with Ela Thier who tells us, "Write badly," because if we wait to write until we know what we write will be great, we will never write. It is the act of writing, even writing badly, that gives us ideas. It doesn't matter f it's good or bad. I think you would free up some of your "stuckness" by just going into the studio to make bad pottery. Strive not just for imperfection, but total lameness. Have fun with being a bad potter. Have fun with being a bad artist. Feel free to make really crappy things. You never know where it will take you!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have one sister who does not make anything incase it is not perfect and another that says "embraced the wonk". For me it is all about doing and the end product is merely the result. I don't expect everybody to "get" it but I had fun doing it. I just have to work out how to get paid for that!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you everybody for the comments, I love hearing your perspective on this problem.

    Carter, I definitely understand what you are saying. Part of my process right now is all about changing my brain. I realize my habits in my approach to art has created an ingrained and not very creative reaction. Papercut had really brought me face to face with those habits, and every time I recognize it, I think I'm breaking it down a little more.

    And Cranky, you are so right that in order to get to the other side, I have to swim through some "bad" pottery.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Clay covered hugs from Australia Whitney x

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wonderful blog & good post.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!
    Edmonton Painters
    Painters Edmonton

    ReplyDelete
  11. Whitney, I suffered from perfection as well and it can be grueling. I finally gave myself permission to not be perfect. I still make art that I love, that others love and that eventually sells. Sometimes being not perfect is perfectly fine!!

    Stay on your path and do what brings you joy. When I change directions, like you are doing, I either find something super cool new or eventually find my way back. Maybe a little changed but that is what it is all about!!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Whitney, I suffered from perfection as well and it can be grueling. I finally gave myself permission to not be perfect. I still make art that I love, that others love and that eventually sells. Sometimes being not perfect is perfectly fine!!

    Stay on your path and do what brings you joy. When I change directions, like you are doing, I either find something super cool new or eventually find my way back. Maybe a little changed but that is what it is all about!!

    ReplyDelete