When the student is ready…
… the teacher appears. After returning home from my 5 month residency in Florence, I felt a bit lost in my studio. I was searching for a clear and objective way to look at my work and I was trying to figure out which way to go next. I explored many ideas and directions while in Florence, but I was longing to find a more singular direction.
Just at about that time, artist/coach Cheryl Taves and artist/teacher Bill Porteus were premiering a new online course, Critical Discussion: Abstraction. 12 artists would be selected to participate in a 12 week program to provide critical feedback and discussion that could greatly enhance their development. It would provide an opportunity to learn how to talk about their art and the work of other artists. Although I felt the program was exactly what I needed, I had doubts about being accepted into the program. I went out on a limb and applied anyway. Boy was I surprised and thrilled when I heard the news that I was accepted!
The group meets for 3 hours every week over zoom. During the first week we received an explanation of how the program worked and what to expect along with general administration processes. We also got a chance to introduce ourselves, show a bit of our work and speak to what it was about. After our first introductory meeting I was terrified! I felt like the other artists in the group were way more accomplished than I was. I began to panic and doubt my place at the table. To further my anxiety, the following week, I would be one of the first to present and talk about my work. The demons of self doubt were let loose and running rampant.
Here are just some of the doubts and negative chatter I was experiencing:
- I’m the worst one in the group
- What did I get myself into?
- Why is this so uncomfortable?
- Will I ever get good at making art?
- How can I share with such a polished group of artists ?…
… and on and on.
While trying to process all of this negativity, a good artist colleague of mine was able to calm my nerves. She suggested I simply present the two most recent paintings and talk about where I am at with my current struggles. After all, the reason I joined to group was to receive the feedback I needed to move forward. I knew if I were to grow, I had to step into this space of discomfort. I resigned to my commitment to improve and would face the fear. I was surprised that once I made that determination, the actual presentation was not so difficult.
These are the two paintings that I presented:
My concern with these two pieces (as with most of my work), was that although both pieces were coming from the same thought and intention, they were so completely different in look and feel. I also did not feel resolved with the final outcome. I’ve often felt that there is too much going on and that I should distill it to the essence, but I wasn’t sure how to do that. When I tried to pair down the look of a piece, the results always fell flat and often lacked depth and history. I was looking for suggestions on how to go forward from here.
Much to my relief, Bill Porteus assured me that I was selected for the group because of my work, not in spite of it, and that all of the artists selected had an equal seat at the table. Instantly I felt more at ease and let go of my fear.
I came away with fresh ideas on how to approach my work:
The process of art making has three stages, order, chaos, order –
- Order – We can begin with an idea that has some boundaries. What parts of visual language do we we want to use; color, line, shape, texture, symbols, transparency etc.? What materials will support what it is we want to say?
- Chaos – Once we select our visual tools, it’s time for chaos or re-ordering. A time for exploration, play, intuition, and room to let the materials speak.
- Order – Now time to go back to order and ask the questions about if the piece is complete as a piece of art. Is there balance, composition, harmony, clarity, and is the piece fulfilling our intention? If not time for tweaking
It was also suggested that I could use this as an opportunity to practice choosing. Being selective in my choice of materials and only using those which will contribute to my intention. Maybe just choose 4 elements to begin with and start with those. I’ve had similar conversations with colleagues about this subject but it had never been expressed in this way. Suddenly it all made more sense. Up until this time I continually tried to draw from every material and technique I had ever learned, thinking that the answer was in the materials. Now I could begin to understand that the answers were within me and the materials and application were the visual language to express these thoughts from within me.
I had two huge take-aways from this first experience with my group:
- In order to learn and improve my work, I have to embrace feelings of discomfort and vulnerability (no pain, no gain)
- The power in the work comes from within my own perceptions and truth, the tools and visual language should be chosen in their ability to support the ideas.
I have to conclude with a feeling of gratitude to be a part of this group – it’s exactly the place I need to be in this period of time.