MAYBE IT’S NOT “REAL” ART AFTER ALL

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my art since I’ve been laid up with all these injuries.

I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it isn’t really “real” art after all.

“Real” artists seem to have different reasons than I do for making their art. They see themselves as explorers, or pioneers–exploring new ideas, new techniques, new venues, new styles. It’s the new, new, new that calls them and excites them. They have profound social themes to explore and comment upon.

It can be beautiful, exciting stuff, even provocative stuff.

But that’s never been what my work is about. I can’t even imagine myself working like that.

My “next idea” and “new body of work” has always–always–come from a very different place and process.

It comes from something calling out to me to be made. It feels intensely personal and even idiosyncratic.

It comes from a desire to make something special for someone who asked for it, or needed it.

Sometimes it comes by chance. Sometimes by challenge.

Rarely (if ever!) by imposing some kind of artistic, intellectual discipline. Yes, it came to me first by study and introspection. But that was when I was so truly lost, I had no way to even begin. I had to work to even find a place to stand.

It’s not really like that now. I just momentarily lost faith in that path. But I never really left that path, nor do I care to now.

It’s time to trust my process again. I must simply make the things I like to make. I must simply accept the reasons I make it.

I must let go of the reasons why I “should” make something else. They just don’t apply to me.

I think my art, for me, is a metaphor.

It’s the power of my choices made visible in the world.

My art (I include my writing) is a way to work through the issues in my life. It helps me determine what kind of person I am, and what kind of person I want to be. It helps me find a way to come back from failure. It helps me deal with fear and insecurity.

It’s not even necessarily how I do those things successfully. I’m a work in progress, after all! I am all too aware of my shortcomings and short sightedness in the world….

Sometimes those are concrete issues I’ve struggled with: How do I create a craft show booth that showcases my work to its best advantage (and is also easy to ship, set-up and break down?) How do I get my work into stores and galleries? How do I get my work published?

But other times (like the last few months) it’s working through more personal issues: How do deal with injury and pain? How do I justify what I do in the world? How do I tell my story in ways that other people can relate to?

Through it all, I think, shines my process. How to think about it. If I can do this, maybe you can, too. If I can figure this out, then maybe you can, too. If I get discouraged and am afraid, maybe it’s okay when you feel that, too.

It’s about learning. It’s about listening. It’s about healing. It’s about choosing.

If I think about which article on my work gives me the most pause, it would have to be the one Ornament Magazine ran in the Winter 2003 issue: my artist statement on 9/11. You can see a version of this statement here.

That’s what my art is about.

Maybe some people do not consider this to be true “art”. Maybe it’s more that shaman thing. That used to frighten me more than figuring out the business side of things. Not so much, anymore…
I’ve come to the conclusion that my art is fine just the way it is.

When I can work again, I have a lot of requests to fill. I need to figure out how to incorporate a new sea otter figurine into a necklace for a woman who needs a little fun and relief from her extraordinary burdens. I need to make a good fish bracelet for a woman who’s fighting for her life. I need to make a bird necklace for a woman who’s ready to fly. I have a repair or two to make, for customers who wore their piece til it fell apart. I have an order or two to fill.

I do feel like a shaman when I look at that list–making lovely things for others on their journey.

That’s not too shabby, either.

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9 Comments

Filed under art, choices, envy, life

9 responses to “MAYBE IT’S NOT “REAL” ART AFTER ALL

  1. Ali

    It’s a fuzzy line with “art.”

    The shaman comment is incredibly fitting. After all, your work has primitive themes and most primitive jewelry had just as much emphasis on the spiritual/healing properties of a talisman than on its aesthetic appeal. You’re just returning to those roots, is all.

    The question of whether or not it’s art is kinda moot. “Art” or no, your work is about more than pure aesthetic.

  2. It’s an intriguing idea – for me, clay is still largely technical-art. I am still consciously picking what I will say, what story I will pick, what cause I will reflect. It doesn’t just call quite yet or jump out from the medium. Maybe in time and for now, I enjoy the technical aspect, the detail picking, the tool making, the chemistry because that’s a big part of my makeup.

    I recognize the difference between the organic or shaman-art approach vs what I do with clay – I can sit down with a piece of plain old copy paper and a chewed on HB pencil in a diner and there is still a story there that is just waiting for me to trace the lines. It’s as if it exists quite outside of me and I’m only needed to make it visible to the world. Being a concrete, analytical soul that sort of faith experience tends to defy being produced on demand, for me.

  3. Good observations, Ali! Whether that aspect of my art chose me, or I chose it, it is what it is. Accepting that will hopefully mean less pressure to conform to the OTHER way of making/approaching art…

    Elaine, your thoughtful comments remind me that mastering the technical side of our medium is valid, too.
    I’d forgotten that important “little” detail–that I had mastered my sewing skills and jewelry-making skills BEFORE this other aspect (the narrative/organic/shamanist) called.

    Sometimes you have to master the medium so that you can truly “lose yourself” in the process–because you don’t have to THINK about the technical stuff, just go with the flow of the narrative.

    For some artists, the mastery is a never-ending story in itself. For me, the mastery only serves a never-ending story.

  4. If you write, whether fiction or non-fiction, you’re a writer….if you’re an artist, whatever you make is art…whether it’s profound idea-driven stuff or mainly process driven, it’s still art. After all visual art is just another way of communicating…

  5. No point in considering the nature of art, but yes, we all wonder about it at times.

    I do like the concept of the artist bridging the material and spiritual worlds- divine inspiration.

  6. Luann,
    You are brave. I find if I would work to all the heartfelt requests of my collectors I would collapse! Just too much pain and emotion. I listen and I take in everything, then I look into my heart for what I need to create at that time. You need to protect yourself. I think artists are intrisically sensitive to emotions. We need the contact but we, also, have to learn how to handle it all and survive!
    Karen
    KJ Lyons Design

  7. There comes a point when too much introspection and analysis can be overwhelming, and we just have to decide “oh screw it” and get on with what makes us happy. I’ve been where you are in the past (six months recovery from surgery on both hands. No riding (I normally ride five or six days a week), no gardening, no artwork, and studio renovations happening at the same time with workmen in the house. Where I am going with this is “this too shall pass” and you’ll get your life back.

    Think about your art life in terms of the ocean. Diving too deeply too often generates intense pressure and can ultimately be harmful if not deadly. Take a break every now and then, trust that you know how to float and just enjoy playing around on the surface. My experience from decades of creating and selling is that when you are pleasing yourself, you are most likely to be creating the work that pleases others.

    When I was younger I spent a fair amount of time agonizing about the larger picture, where I fit in, and all that other stuff over which we have no control. I’m having a lot more fun now that I am just pleasing myself, and ironically I’m selling more too.

  8. Ben-David

    Artists in English-speaking countries are too hung up on the distinction between “Pure” or “Fine” art and what was until recently dismissed as “applied” or “decorative” or – ugh! – “industrial” art.

    Modern manufacturing and media have totally levelled these Victorian-era distinctions. And the modern crafts movement stomps the smoldering ashes of such snobbery into dust.

    Forget about it – the distinction does not even exist in most other languages and cultures.

    Almost all the “Masterpieces” of “Real Art” from the Renaissance were done on contract.
    By workshops full of assistants.
    Often with dictated subject matter.
    For very opinionated clients.

    The whole notion that these works somehow express one person’s “creative vision” is kinda shaky… probably the more intimate work of a modern artist like you captures sincere moments more often than that stuff.

    I much admire the Japanese program that recognizes masters of traditional crafts with educational grants and the title of “Living National Treasure”. That sounds about right.

  9. Great thoughts and insights from all of you. Thank you for the down-to-earth philosophies and the “just do it” comments. :^)

    Oh dear, Ben-David, you are obviously one of those people who were paying attention in art history class! You are absolutely right on all your points about most of art throughout history.

    I think that’s why I identify so closely with art from PRE-history. There’s something else going on–art for a different purpose, art for healing, art for creating some impact on the world, art for connecting to something beyond the visible world–that appeals to me. We all find our place somewhere, and make our peace with it. Thank you for your comments.

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