GETTING TO YOUR HAPPY (CREATIVE) PLACE

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

 Good, constructive criticism is always a good thing. But we should also consider the source, and seek out our best people for triangulation.
I opened my journal today, and found an entry from a week ago.
It started, “I feel so….dead today…”  I went on to list all the things that were not going well, and how powerless I felt to change that. I had ‘failed’ at a workshop. I recalled cruel words about my work from a ‘friend’ years ago. My foot hurt. (I can really pile it on when I’m low!)
What did I write today? “And a week later, I am on fire with new ideas and designs!”
What happened in between??
To be truthful, not much. A change in the weather. A change of scenery. Meeting up with a good friend here and there. A good night’s sleep. Time. A glass of wine (or three!)
In short, everything that felt daunting and dreary a handful of days ago, has melted away, leaving new energy and enthusiasm in its wake.
We artists and creative people can easily fall prey to these passing mindsets. In order to create something new, we have to be open to the beauty in front of us, open and receptive to everything life throws at us.
Of course, that also means we sometimes forget to shut that door. We may leave ourselves open to a hostile remark, or the destructive narcissism of another person. The toxicity of the news can drain us. We may be heavily influenced by a powerful book or movie. We may care too much when someone is critical of our work, or our efforts, or our actions. Even something as simple as an idea that didn’t pan out, a painting that didn’t quite work the way we wanted, a design that wasn’t as exciting as we’d hope, can cause us to temporarily doubt our abilities and talents.
This was doubly proven to me today. A friend back East reached out to me recently. I held off getting back to them until I had ‘more time’ later today.
Then something caught my attention, something that made me realize I should call themnow. I followed that impulse, and remembered something powerful:
There are people in our lives who, when we stumble, will remember who we are. When we forget, they will hold us up until we can remember for ourselves again. 
After we talked, my friend exclaimed, “I feel so much better now! I’m so glad we talked!” I had to remind them I merely was repeating insights she had shared with me three years ago!
She held me up then. It was my turn to hold her up, now.
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I have to admit, simply HOLDING something I’ve created is often enough to reconnect me.

Journaling serves this purpose for me, especially when I’m in a hard place. It’s a way to get the buzzy voice out of my head, and down on paper, where it’s easier to test my assumptions. Are things really that bad? Is the situation permanent? Is it something I can fix, or something I can simply let go for now? Is there someone who can offer me another point of view? Or someone I can ‘triangulate’ with, someone who will confirm my perception, yet (or ‘and so’) offer me guidance?

Of course, some art, great art, is created because of the very hard places we find ourselves in. Picasso’s Guernica is an obvious example.
Yet a more subtle example is Lawrence Weschler’s essay, “Vermeer in Bosnia” (in his book by the same name).
During the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal years ago, Weschler spoke with a jurist who had to listen to horrific testimony for weeks on end. The jurist mentioned that he found peace and comfort in the Mauritshuis museum, with its collection of Vermeer paintings.
The final irony is, Vermeer’s intimate glimpses of quiet domesticity were actually created during a time of similar horror and violence. “Only Lawrence Weschler could reveal the connections between the twentieth century’s Yugoslav wars and the equally violent Holland in which Vermeer created his luminously serene paintings….
An artist creates a place for quiet contemplation, during a time of intense war and destruction, which, centuries later, creates another respite in an equally heinous period in our modern times.
Friendship. Journaling. Rest. A walk, or a drive in the country. A faithful dog or sleeping cat. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine (or three!)….
What restores you to your happy, creative frame of mind?

GO FORTH AND MAKE STUFF

There are a million reasons why you can’t/shouldn’t/won’t make your art visible in the world. There’s one reason worth your life, why you have to.

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I felt pretty uninspired yesterday. Then I made this.

I’ve have many dreams for my art over the years. Some involved artistic vision. Some involved recognition, respect, and kudos. Some involved financial rewards. Some were only for me and my sanity, my vanity, and my little rabbit heart’s yearning.

Some have been achieved. Many probably never will be. Some are still in progress.

Some I never even imagined, until they came appeared, on their own, exclaiming, “Hey, you forgot ME!!”

We all hold dreams for our the creative work we do, whether we work with words, music, paint, stone, polymer clay, gold, clay, or glass.

It’s when we try to make them present in the world that we run into trouble.

I’ve encountered so many creative people lately, strong, intelligent, gifted people, who, quite frankly, have their head up their respective asses. (In all fairness, I can add myself to that list.) Filled with self-doubt, physical/emotional/mental/spiritual/temporary and permanent setbacks, they struggle to have even an iota of their creative potential in their life.

“When I have the perfect training/situation/schedule/studio/work place/support group/guaranteed income/show/companion/gallery/social media skills/presentation/experience/audience/community/website/skills/whatever-in-god’s- name-you-think-you-need-to-create in my life, then I’ll exercise my creative talent!”

Oh dear.

This is beginning to sound like the SCOTUS nomination and Congress situation. There is just no work-around when you have so many conditions on how–and when–your creative self will engage with the world.

It’s easy to buy into these situations: When can I call myself an artist? How will I make a living with my creative gifts? Who will buy it?? What is a successful artist? Am I good enough to be an artist? These are just a handful of the mind-numbing and soul-petrifying doubts and questions that block so many of us from doing what we love to do.

I’ve been writing about this since my very very first blog post in 2002.  I’ve felt all of these ‘conditions’ and ‘restrictions’ personally, too. Examining my own caustic beliefs, working through them, and sharing that process with you, is a huge part of my own creative process. Sometimes I wonder if the only reason I was born with an artistic gift, is so I could write and share this with you.

It’s so incredibly hard, for so many people, to hear my message over the little nagging voices in their own heads, I often can’t break through.  (I’m learning that people can’t hear me until they are ready to hear me. Which helps me keep trying when I feel discouraged.)

So here’s one of my all-time favorite comic strips that explains, as only humor can, why the world needs your art. And why YOU need your art in the world… And why it doesn’t matter how much of it you put in the world, or how much money you make with it, why it doesn’t matter if it’s your vocation, your avocation, or your career, why it doesn’t matter how many people ‘like’ it (literally and figurative, thank you Facebook!), nor why it even matters if I like it or not….

In this Sally Forth cartoon panel from February 5, 2015, Ted is talking to his daughter Hilary, ten years in the future, about the real importance of her creative endeavors:

Hil, do you know why people play music? Or draw or sing or do stand-up or create?

Becauxe it’s through their art they can interpret the world. And it’s through their art they can add their ideas to the world. It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a voice.

And if you don’t pursue your art, you may lose that great opportunity to have your say.

(And for a small reality check that every parent will recognize, Hilary replies, “Is this the very level of understanding why you never flinch when I ask for money?”)

Ponder that for a bit today.

Remember: I’m not telling you to give up your day job. I’m not telling you to sign up for American Idol. I’m not telling you what “real” art is, I’m not telling you how often or when you should make it, I’m not telling how you should do it, I’m not saying you should run off to Tahiti, abandoning your family, and lie on a beach somewhere with a umbrella drink in your hand. (Although, that sounds pretty cool, and Tahiti IS a magical place.)

And I’m not telling you it’s easy, or simple, or that there’s a right way to do it.

I’m saying you have a voice. You have just this one life to use it. And it’s NEVER TOO LATE to use it.

Okay, you have a job, a real job or role, one that you like, or even love, or a care-taking role, or anything else you simply do or have to do.

I say, you need the restoration, the sanity, the healing power you get by putting your own power out into the world, to support this other, vitally important work you do. (Think of your creative spirit as the gas you put in your car.) (Okay, the electricity you recharge you car with.)

Make room for it, even just a tiny bit of a room, in your life.

If not for yourself (although I firmly believe that’s the best reason in the world to do it), then do it for someone you love, someone else in the same boat, who holds the same fears and second-guessing and shame and despair that you do.*

Show them the real healing power of art.

Show them what it looks like.

*Yep, this is my super-sneaky strategy to encourage certain selfless folks to be a wee bit more self-ish. Did it work?

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The well-worn and much-loved comic strip that inspired today’s post.

MY TOWN: Santa Rosa Made Visible by Bud Snow

That's me in the coral pink t-shirt, adding my 2 cents to Bud Snow's lastest public art installation.

That’s me in the coral pink t-shirt, adding my 2 cents to Bud Snow’s lastest public art installation.

 

I spent three wonderful days last week, ‘helping’  on the lastest public art installation by mural artist Bud Snow (formerly of Santa Rosa, CA.)

I didn’t mean to. I just stopped by to say hello to this talented, amazing person, whose early work appears on a concrete ledge right outside my studio door. I was captivated the very first time I saw their images, on a grainary tower along Rte. 12, on storefronts and buildings, and this humble little ledge (which we saw the very first time we stopped in Santa Rosa at Atlas Coffee Company.)

We met, we fell in love with each other, and a wonderful friendship was born. And now Bud was back in town, painting a giant mandala about 100 feet from my front door (again!) in Santa Rosa’s beautiful, art-filled Julliard Park. My quick hello on Monday was met with, “Would you like to paint a bit?” “Would I?! Would I?!! Hell, yah!” I shrieked  said politely. And I painted for several hours. And again Tuesday (“I really can’t stay oh okay just for a few minutes”) for 6 hours. (I called Jon down to join me, and he said it was exhilarating, peaceful, therapeutic, and a million other good things.) And I was there for hours more on Wednesday, too.

This project was a little different for Bud. Usually the work is done high up, in otherwise inaccessible locations. Not much face time with the public, and they certainly can’t be a part of the process fifty feet off the ground. This was at ground level, in a popular park, near an elementary school, a small community of stores and shops and fancy restaurants, in the heart of Santa Rosa’s SOFA Arts District.

This meant people actually walked by the work-in-progress. It lay right at their feet! The responses were delightful to behold. Everybody–everybody— loved it. High school and college kids, longtime friends of Bud who stopped by to say hello, fellow artists, parents picking up their kids at the elementary school, people eating lunch, people walking home from work, people walking their dogs, people who hang out in the park who have no homes to go to, bicyclists, people using the bocce courts nearby, neighbors, passers-by, all ages, all genders, all races, all affiliations, all greeting the work with smiles and laughter.

And Bud met all of them with grace, and generosity, and an open heart. And asking them if they’d like to paint a bit. (Almost everyone said yes.)

It was magic.

And as people painted and chatted, the magic continued. Stories, musings, and wisdom were shared, unknown connections were revealed (some going back two or three generations, and across the country, and into Canada and Mexico.) Synchronicity abounded, resulting in gasps of breath and regular rounds of laughter.

Synchronicity involves authenticity, and Bud Snow has that in abundance. Pure creative spirit creates powerful connections, and the resulting art creates powerful connection, something we’ve practiced as a species even before the powerful and mysterious cave paintings were made tens of thousands of years ago.

This, to me, was the ultimate public art project. Because not only did the art beautify the space, and enriched those who see it, it brought together a mini-community of people to participate in the process. All of us who contributed even a brushstroke, or shared a story, or brought a gift (coffee, snacks, and other goodies) will feel part of this mandala for years to come. And because it’s a functional piece as well (you can actually walk this meditative piece), it will enrich others for decades to come.

Effin’ brilliant.

Actually, this is even more incredible when you figure in the problematic consequences of this. Engaging constantly with the public, encouraging people to participate (very few said no!), setting them up to paint, and adding to the touch-up work needed to cover errant footprints (people, dogs), drips, and scuffs (because the design was complex, and mistakes were made) was also monumentally time-consuming. What was supposed to be a two-day project stretched to double, almost triple the time. Bud agonized about being over-budget and over-time. And yet Bud never let that show, not once. Bud was just as gracious and engaging to the people who showed up as we were trying to clean up, as the sun set, as the first visitors of the day. (A homeless man held a flashlight for us as we cleaned up the work station, and used his pocket knife to scrape away some of the more stubborn paint drips. SO EFFIN’ SWEET.)

I’m sharing one such gift today, courtesy of Tara Thompson, arts coordinator for the City of Santa Rosa, who showed up with many gifts (including painting!)

Tara showed up with items from a previous outreach/marketing project in Santa Rosa, called Out There in the Middle of Everything (Santa Rosa), a collaborative project with Santa Rosa residents to promote the overt and hidden wonders of Santa Rosa. She brought t-shirts and small booklets designed by Bud, and gave them to Bud.

My favorite was this t-shirt, a sort of treasure hunt for Santa Rosa:

There is magic in this seemingly ordinary t-shirt, beyond the illustration.

There is magic in this seemingly ordinary t-shirt, beyond the illustration.

Now, at first glance, I couldn’t read the ‘code’. And then…I could.

Oh! There’s SOFA! That’s the art district! And tool library–I knew what that was, too.

I knew two of the ‘secrets’ of Santa Rosa!

My friend Cory explained a few more that I actually knew, too. “Goat mornings” was having coffee at another popular coffee shop, The Flying Goat. “Snoopy E’rywhere”? The sculptures of characters from the comic strip PEANUTS, by Santa Rosa resident Charles Schulz, which you’ll find all over town.

Jon looked and said, “Hey, the Pen Guy! Is that the guy who’s glued Sharpie markers all over his car? I took a picture of that!” It was.

And here’s the biggest wonderful aspect of Bud Snow’s work:

I instantly felt a part of, a citizen of, Santa Rosa.

Jon and I moved a lot before we settled down in Keene, New Hampshire 28 years ago. I’m extremely aware of how much time can pass before you feel “at home” in a new place, before you feel yourself to be a real citizen of that place.

This t-shirt created that feeling, that connection in me immediately, after 18 months. (Keene took three years.)

I want Bud Snow to do this for other towns and communities.  (I know, anyone could do it. But Bud created this, help an artist out here. There will be the distinctive flair of Bud Snow’s art and talent.)

Bud didn’t see the deep magic in this at first. “They asked me to make something that showed how special this city is,” Bud said. “I just listed a bunch of my favorite places in town. It’s no big deal!”

But it is.

In twenty minutes, half a dozen people connected, with their long (or brief) history in this city, with each other, with Bud. Another intimate, powerful, connective work of art, doing its job, doing it right.

Thank you, Tara Thompson, for the perfect gift, for Bud Snow, for all of us there that day. I’ve already bought two t-shirts from the city site’s online store. I’ll be buying a lot more in the years to come.

Thank you, Bud Snow, for being you. You are more than you know.

And thank you, Santa Rosa, our new home.