I think we know when we are an artist. The way we express that isn’t important. It’s a way of living. A way of seeing, and how that comes out of us by way of a medium, or art form is unimportant. I know many artists who flow from one medium to another and other than learning how to use them, learning the tools and the techniques, it’s an effortless passage from one to another. Sometimes we are bound by the barriers of one medium and search for another that lets us communicate what we need to say.
I think of John Lennon who was a masterful musician, but also wrote music and lyrics, performed, and did films with the other Beatles. Each is a different medium.
For me it’s a process of rethinking craft – using my hands with tools and resources to create new visions of the interaction of life force and the physical universe, thru the physical universe of motion, energy, thought processes, objects, textures, life forms and the processes that lead one’s vision from the ordinary into the exquisite or the interesting, from convention to extraordinary.
When I was a little girl my mother taught me how to sew. She taught me how first to hand sew and I made my doll clothes and quilts. Many years later I added to that spinning fiber, weaving, art quilts, designing and hand making 1700’s clothing, making baskets, and many other fiber arts. I am always thinking of new ways to use fibers to create things.
Just today, watching a Youtube video on Visionaries in American Craft where someone had made a long narrow weaving that was beautiful, the juices started flowing. I realized I have an Inkle loom used for making sashes for 1700’s clothing which I had never considered could be a loom for art weaving. Now I’m all excited about the possibilities and thinking how I can load the loom and what I can use for the fibers in it. I’m rethinking the craft.
An artist’s path is strewn behind them (us) with the examples of that process in terms of artistic product, but the life force and creation of the artist is the important thing. If we do our job well, that object or sound or motion leads another down the path.
I was standing in the Uffizi Museum in Florence, Italy in 1978 in front of a renaissance painting by Leonardo DiVinci of the Holy Family, in brilliant renaissance colors. I stood there transfixed for some time, entranced, not only by the pure beauty of it, the masterful expression of it in oil, the pure beauty of the rendition, the colors, but as I reached and admired it I could feel the thoughts as he painted it. His intention of the subject was there still in that canvas, the images came forth like a movie in spiritual film. He truly was a master.
Being a museum junkie, I have been exposed to master artists in many many media. And they all have that characteristic of having just below the surface that conveyance of intention, of thought process, of a walk down the aesthetic pathways of creativity. I can feel the problem solving of getting the thought into the physical thing so it comes forward as one views it from outside of the artist’s processes. And sometimes it also conveys the physical presence of the artist, the effort of it, the feeling of harmony like a dance and its sensations on the body, or the hands on the clay, or the blade on wood. But always the aesthetic band of thought. It’s so high and fine, it transcends the physical which in comparison is crude and harsh. Yet an artist can translate the window to his soul into it and change the physical stuff into something else.
There is a working with nature and its beauty in harmony, nature’s kindnesses – the interworking of all of life on the physical universe in harmony and balance including the human, you and me – in its expression in life forms and rock and water, atmosphere, weather, fragrances, color, texture and rhythm. Many artists I know think the most beautiful things on this planet are nature. I agree we can’t really outdo nature for its power of beauty. It’s pure.
There is an elevating of wave length to the aesthetic band – operating outside the bands of matter, energy, space and time to rise back to pure life and aesthetics then molding things to imbue them with that marvelous wave length above solidity.
Being an artist is a combination of seeing beauty and creating it with a sense of wonder and newness. It’s seeing how things could be, changed. Or how things fit in the new ways of looking at them.
For the people viewing those things that are the off shoots of the creative process, the foot prints of where the artist has walked – leaving a pathway to the wavelength – a hole in the physical universe into the aesthetic dimension – pure life force – pure beauty, they can see to various degrees that wavelength and hopefully it resonates within them and elevates them.
Beauty can be so many things. It doesn’t have to be precious. It can be startling, the juxtaposition of unlike things that create an effect and that effect molded by the artist. Like the combination of sweet and salty, of bitter and savory, of acrid and sweet.
An artist is someone who takes their time, energy and intellect to give you a window into their universe.
One outcome of art is the spark it leaves in your own universe, to invite you to explore your own visions of beauty and spark of life. To goad you into creating too, in your own unique way. To value that uniqueness. And to value the vision no matter how startling or different, or strange. I have seen photography of horrible things that jar one into seeing the stark beauty, to shift viewpoint.
Making something that does this uses the focus of the physical universe to convey the perceptions that capture imagination and spark creativeness in you. And the variety of that is unimaginably vast. There are no upper limits to that reach.
Not all works of art will resonate with you but if you reach out to try to follow the aesthetic sense – to pervade it to see and feel the intention of the artist or their vision, to feel the life aesthetic energy and see what the artist imbued it with, is the doorway into understanding, and being inspired.
An artist is there to wake you up to the elevation of being, pure being, thru their creations. You add your own magic and dance harmoniously – or not.
Not all creations will resonate with you. After all, we don’t like everyone we meet, or like every location we travel to, or every aspect of living. But chances are, if you take the time to experience art in its many manifestions, whether classical art like paintings and sculpture, but any media or craft form, or a garden, or park like the Grand Canyon, something will elevate your senses, brighten you. Sometimes when I hike thru natural environments I find myself becoming hyper sensitive to perception, to the life around me, to the beauty of every little and large thing around me, like I’m floating above the body and happy.
I find myself loving and seeing textures – like the patterns on a leaf or a lichen on a rock, the color, the history of a geological formation and the forces at work, the space around a mountain, the movement of water in a stream, the sounds around me – wind in the trees, birds and insects, the smells of fresh air and trees, the feeling of an uneven pathway beneath my feet, the sinuous curve of the trail between the trees and the rocks, each perception a revelation that makes me focus on only now. Art does this for me too.
I love the feeling of a well woven hand made fabric, the feeling of a beautiful piece of pottery, see the gouge marks on a stone sculpture and the overall effect it creates.
I had a Japanese friend who lived downstairs from me when I lived in Los Angeles where I had my pottery studio. She asked me to make her some tea bowls. I worked very hard to make perfect pieces and presented her many of them. The one she chose was the one that I thought was a mistake, where some glaze had somehow splattered on the inside of the bowl, serendipity, immediate in time. It wasn’t made by a machine. For her it had meaning. To her it was a treasure because of that. It was not conventional, it was from ME.
Hand crafting and individual art pieces are an alternative to convention, to the cheap stuff of modern life, soulless. The thing made by hand says this was made by a human who was a creator, who put life and beauty into this, consideration, time, energy, and life force.
For me, who is inspired to make something, I see it as ‘this is something I could do, something that can be done, with this raw material. I don’t think – I don’t want this or that. I think I want to create an effect and see where this raw material can take me. I gather the materials and work with them and see what effect I can make of it.
I am a gardener among many of my fancies, and a fiber artist and basket maker. I see the Japanese honeysuckle climbing up the supports I have saved for my peas and think – I could make a bunch of baskets with that. And I have grape vines that need pruning, wonder what that combination of basket fibers would yield? Add in some willow branches for the backbones of it, and what could I make with that? then I can feel the blood flowing, the juices moving me.
For the person working in crafts, the world is just full of resources to make things. Repurposing is one of my favorite games. Taking on what has been discarded, what others would consider junk, or un-useful stuff, I see opportunity. Putting some pruned branches into a basket adds interest. Incorporating some bottle caps into jewelry with an eye to color or shape elevates it from junk to the makings of something amazing. Weaving some seed pods into a fabric or a found feather can take something ordinary, making it delightful. It’s all in the choices and aesthetic sense of the artist.
I don’t judge my own work with others in mind. I think ‘Can I make this better, can I bring out more of the beauty, is it finished?’ That’s about the only downside of art – the endless attempt at the exact effect. When to consider it a ‘done’ and not try to over work something that is just right. When to quit.
When I had my pottery studio in L.A. in an 80year old redwood carriage house behind a Victorian mansion, facing the alley, I had a fenced in area where I had my kiln. I would work for weeks till I filled it with pieces, then I would stay there all night firing the kiln as it often took 2 days. It was like giving birth. I would be tired and sore by the morning. Then it would have to cool off so I wouldn’t blow up my pots by opening it too quickly and expose too much of a temperature change to the pots. But after several hours of cooling, I would open up the top and start taking out pieces one by one. Each one was like meeting a new friend. What I had intended, what I anticipated with each one came as a surprise in the finished product. I’d hold it in my hands and turn it, feeling the glaze, the shape, looking at the colors of the glaze, and feel it spiritually. Each one was a kind of child. Not all were pretty, I had favorites, and some that would hold brushes or be utilitarian. But always there would be those that I knew were good.
So, instead of continually reworking the same pot, the lesson was keep making pots and keep working to reach that sense that this was IT. But then usually when I reached that in a specific form, I’d tire of it and move on to new things.
However, I sold my pots, and later I had people tell me, who had bought them over the years, that they still had those pots, even when most everything else of their material things had gotten lost, broken, or left behind. But my pots stayed with them as treasured objects. To me this was the ultimate validation. Sometimes people would see things in my pots that I didn’t see. So, don’t despair, your work will always be better than some junk made in a Chinese factory a thousand at a time. It has a uniqueness and a feeling that you put into it.
To me art is as much a part of living as breathing, eating, sleeping, working to make money, only more so. Creating something beautiful and meaningful to me IS living.
I can’t tell people to be creative or how to be so, it doesn’t work that way. I’m a teacher, and all I can do is expose my students to ways to create effects. What they do with it is entirely an expression of their individuality, of them as spiritual beings. But to me that is beauty in itself because I see the ultimate beauty as a spiritual being. I can validate, encourage, guide where there is a struggle to create an effect, because technique is something that needs to be perfected and practiced to master. Each media has its limits and technology. You can’t cheat on how hot you fire a pot because if it’s too hot it melts, if too cool the glaze doesn’t mature. If you leave an air hole in the clay it will explode. There are things to learn.
I can question their thinking to get them to focus and know their direction. Sometimes the alternative thoughts to a creative person in themselves can be overwhelming – too many choices. This can be a stop. I can get them to try new things and see where they lead. To incorporate those new things in what they already know. This is exciting and sometimes exhilarating.
I can encourage patience when learning new skills because some things are just hard to do. I took a print making class one year at my friend’s school in Maine (Waterfall Arts, Liberty, Maine) with a well known print maker using copper plate. I was only there for two weeks visiting. I realized soon after a couple of days that this was a lifetime pursuit and decided to focus my attention on another class of bead making with glass and photography and printing photos in a darkroom. So sometimes you have to gauge your own limitations too.
When I teach organic gardening here at my garden – Hillside Gardens, Auburn, Ga. – I tell my students to go out into my garden and observe things, and come back and tell me what they saw. Some say ‘it’s pretty’. Some say ‘your lettuce is yellowing’, some say ‘there are bugs eating your kale’, and some say ‘I feel the harmony and feel the plants are thirsty’. By the end of the internship which is a 6 month commitment, I ask them to do the same exercise, and the amount of perception and awareness they bring to me is astounding. One on one, they are amazed at what they saw, how much they understood, and how connected they felt towards everything. How they understood the processes involved, the relationships between the soil, the life forms in it, the plants, and how they interact. Familiarity and working with a media brings about expanded perception entirely apart from what is taught. You make your own mistakes, and learn. It’s the same with any art media. As you work with the material of it, with the tools, with experimentation and trail and error, what works, what doesn’t, how far the rules can be stretched before no product is forthcoming, and how the possibilities expand to what can be done. Some artists spend their whole lifetime with one media exploring and bringing the craft or art form to new heights. Many work with multiple media and explore many avenues of creativity.
I have found that creative people are endlessly curious and interested. Not interesting, interestED. Always fascinated and passionate and often driven. They work because doing their art or craft brings them such joy and meaning.
I had a sign in my pottery studio in L.A. “Studio, the place an artist uses to explore”.
Whatever media you choose to work in, or learn, in your quest for beauty – however you define that or see it – I wish you well because it is my opinion that the artist is the builder of civilizations, injects life into any society, and is one of the most valuable members in it by virtue of the fact that the artist is creating the combined soul and quality of a culture. The artist creates patterns of beauty and value in the human existence. So, go out and create, and be ever mindful that what you create today impacts your world tomorrow, so always think how it will affect the world in a hundred years. Will it be better? We hope so. That is our aim.