What I learned in class today… I have my own process!
In my last drawing class, we were tasked with first collecting discarded cardboard boxes that seemed to have faces in them. The project was meant to demonstrate how, we as artists and humans, tend to have the habit of anthropomorphizing all that we see. I have always enjoyed finding faces in seemingly abstract and random papers, so this part of the project was greatly enjoyable to me.
The second part caused me a small anxiety attack and I’m feeling it again today as I write this, three days after the initial project. The second part was to take our cardboard detritus and create articulated figures. In other words, follow through on our anthropomorphizing with a spontaneous creation. In truth, I didn’t feel the anxiety until it was time to reveal and share reflections on what we made.
This is where my self-criticism goes into overdrive! I both like and dislike my creation. reflecting on it, the part I dislike is the overthinking, inner dialogue about what others will think of my work, and how my choices to make things in a child-like manner will be seen. Ok, I’m insecure about my spontaneous work exponentially more than I am of my work done at my pace in my studio.
I Love My Process, but is it too much love?
My process, now developed over decades, is that I observe and absorb tons of images; let them stew in my mind for as long as they need to; daydream and visualize transformations of them; occasionally make sketches of my imaginings; then start a new piece with a comfort level so blissful that I can just let go of the outcome and let the materials I’m using guide the direction and outcome. That’s my spontaneity.
So, I didn’t really enjoy this project.
The next day, I had two experiences that further enhanced my reflection on my own practice-process. In the morning, I was invited to help raise funds for the ceramic students association. It was a spontaneous opportunity to play with clay and I wanted to see if I still had the feelings for the materials in my hands; a muscle memory. I grabbed some clay and started making slap slabs and dropping them over bowls and jars to make what I call Paper Bowls. I was only allowed to make the initial forms and asked to leave them to dry and be finished (ie. fired and glazed) by other students. that took some letting go, for sure! Once I accepted the terms (in my head and heart), I made nine of my bowls in different shapes and sizes.
I have to share the fun part of this experience before I get back to my spontaneity anxiety topic. Some other first year students were also making stuff, they saw how I was making my slap-slabs and asked me to teach them the technique. They rewarded me with the joy they both got at a quick mastery of this simple technique, and also with compliments for my clear and easily applicable teaching of the technique. I was overjoyed! We had a few hours of fun conversation and sharing after that. Teaching something I love helped me get out of my shell and make heartfelt, human connections.
So, back to the anxiety junk… After lunch, I had a ceramics class where our amazing teacher Francine, subtly showed some slab building techniques and even the same slap-slab technique I taught earlier that day. This part felt very good… validation that I was able to teach something in a similar way to my respected teacher. Then she asked us to spontaneously create something that emerges from the slab we just made; something that was playful; to let go of control and play. Well, this is what I understood. It was a timed exercise, so I only had a few seconds to imagine what to do and I just couldn’t align my desire to make something spontaneous with my desire to make something good. I didn’t let go.
I didn’t finish the piece to my satisfaction, and couldn’t follow through with another part of my process, which is to let the initial form stand for a week (drying very slowly to leather hard) and tweaking it with finishing touches. Oh, and I realize that during this week, the initial form transforms in my imagination. Anyway, I had to present the piece and didn’t get anywhere close to the amount of feedback I hoped for, but that’s another tangent to explore in another positing.
Where was I? Oh, right, anxiety attacks! The one question that set me into an obsessed panic was from the teacher. She asked if I enjoyed this experience and why. I gave a fast answer that I almost immediately felt inauthentic. No, I didn’t enjoy the experience that took me out of my comfortable and beloved process. As we continued to go around the room, looking at the other students’ pieces, I did my best to listen to the conversations, but was really looking for an explanation for my discomfort. I think I found it. I didn’t let myself play. Moreover, I didn’t focus on playing without any care for outcome, feedback, criticism, etc… I was not being mindful. I was not being in the moment.
I’m not yet sure how letting go will make me a better artist, but I feel a truth about this to my very core. My gut-mind is positively screaming for me to play! To reinforce this message the universe gave me a chapter on it in a book I’m reading about The Issue-Based Approach to teaching-learning. Obviously, there will be more to come on this fascinating topic.
Back the class… the teacher gave us the directive, but only after we finished the piece, that we were to destroy it and re-wedge it into usable clay for the next project. She also gave us the choice to keep a piece of it to could incorporate into a bigger class project. Arg, more choices! I chose to destroy the whole anxiety causing thing. As I was re-wedging it, the anxiety started to dissipate and clarity on the joy of my own process arose. I allowed myself to enjoy that feeling and let the reflections come to me. I’ve been imagining transformations of that first sculpture in mind since class. I’m happy again!
Will I be able to do this in my drawing class? I hope so. Now I have to draw Punchy. Crap, the anxiety is coming back. Let it go, Mario. The outcome is far less important than the process.
The Final Note
I realize that I learn a lot from the feedback of others. Part of me really loves the see through other perspectives. It inspires my imagination. I have a website with most of my artwork on it and I’m contemplating a change to a more traditional artist portfolio style site. I would really love advice on formats, feedback on the works, and curation suggestions. Please visit Arts M.Perron, grab one of many pieces that attract your attention, and share your thoughts and feelings. If you want to post them on your own social media, websites, blogs, etc… Please share the links with me here in my comments. I’m more than grateful and would love to opportunity to reciprocate with acknowledgements that lead folks back to your sites and your works.