An Artist’s Role in Troubled Times

MeinmystudioThere is the idea that art is not a ‘legitimate’ type of work; that it is a frivolity best saved for spare time, etc; or a luxury for the wealthy. But for artists who have a vision that they are compelled to share, art isn’t a frivolity or luxury- it’s a necessity. And for society, art is also a necessity, although this may not be realized by many. We are the spirit keepers, the mirrors, the candles. And we need to become our own best friends- to believe in ourselves and what we do. And stick together, rather than compete with one another.  – Agnes Martin

For those of you who do not make art full time, Agnes is right, it isn’t a frivolity or luxury, making art for an artist is a necessity, a bodily function if you will, like breathing.  When tragedy occurs , especially on a global scale,  artists respond.  It’s what we do.  We make art to express collective sentiment, or to mark the event, or to raise money for those impacted.  Artists are active participants in change.

For some of us American citizens, the results of the recent presidential election is a tragedy of serious magnitude.  People are afraid- of deportation; of destruction to the environment; of violence caused by racial, gender and sexual prejudice; of certain rights in place being repealed; and of having all that our country has done to progress dismantled.

It is a time for us artists to hunker down and figure out a way to respond.  Usually when faced with a catastrophe, my creativity goes out the window for a good long while.  It’s as if all my creative energy goes elsewhere.  Within me is an ominous radio silence, like the quiet before a tornado when all the birds stop singing and the air is completely still.

The day after the election had me metaphorically face down on my shield.  I was devastated.  I felt all the fight drain from me.  Meanwhile on social media I watch all my artist friends spring into action.   There are calls to action, conferences, symposiums, calls for entry for themed shows, calendars for organized protests, all within a week after the election.  I seem paralyzed.  I feel as if I’ve been through so much that it’s taking me longer and longer to bounce back.  What can I do to help support those willing to be on the front lines?

I thus retreat into contemplative mode.  By quiet contemplation and prayer I seek out the small still voice that will lead me where I need to go and tell me what to do once I get there.  And that small voice is telling me right now that alot of healing and peace making is needed right now.  Comfort and healing is a major thread in my work, has been for  years.  This I can do.  As I pray for healing and comfort to those suffering, and for wisdom and peaceful hearts for those now in charge, I leave you with who I am as an artist and how I respond to times like this through my work:  come inside my work and rest.

 

A Breakthrough and A New Assistant

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Not a bad weekend shut in the studio, for a change!

As the saying goes, “don’t give up just before the miracle.”  All the clay I touched for the past month wound up in that endless cycle of wedge, throw, reclaim, wedge, throw, reclaim.  Sigh.  Whether my efforts made the clay just a boring blank cylinder with no spirit, or a structural failure, everything just kept going into the damn bucket.  In bygone days, when I was young and had more ego than brains or skill, I thought every single time I touched clay had to be a masterpiece.  Runs like this would be crushing and I’d leave the studio and walk away from clay for a good long while.  Now I just persevere.  I realize that nothing worth creating comes easy.  There is no antidote to this situation but hard work.  I also realize that my absolute worst day in my studio as a full time artist equals my best day when I was stuck in an office driving a desk for 23 years at a job I had grown to loathe.  Audio books and a new puppy helped too.

Enter Mel.  Our teenage Treeing Walker Coon Hound who we adopted on February 2, 2016.  Mel was rescued from a neglect situation in West Virginia, fostered while he got shots and neutered then sent to a kennel in southern Pennsylvania to adopt out.  We managed one week without our dear Petey who died with us here at home then we realized the house was too empty and clean, the studios too quiet and our lives without that happy canine chaos that gives us our energy.   He’s a big white warm soft bundle of love requiring us to change his name from Boomer to Mel, short of Marshmallow Pie.  He’s very good in the studios, he even has his own cubicle.

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Mel , our new studio assistant, in his studio cubicle reporting for duty.

After about a month of fruitless labor, things started happening.  More shapes were coming off the wheel to be put in the wet box instead of the reclaim bucket.  I wasn’t happy with them as is, but no matter.  I kept throwing.  All of a sudden I could see shapes for my commission project that had me baffled and clueless for months;  I could see sculptural infrastructure that could be assembled from forms coming off the wheel.  Suddenly these cylindrical forms, so lifeless and lackluster were blank canvasses for me to alter and add texture to make them come alive and sing.  Hmmm!  All of a sudden I’m dragging out my Haeckel books and hunting for ideas, making slip and filling my decorating bag.

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My current treasure troves of ideas and inspirations

 

And suddenly, here I am, breaking through to the other side, busting out from craft into art.

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Functional forms given spirit and life

 

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3 plain bowls demanded to be assembled and turned into a sculpture

Glass was happening in the studio too.  My students are wonderful.  They make thoughtful, deliberate, creative work.  They are putting alot of care and effort into making elaborate creations so output is slow.  I took advantage of the empty kiln space and made some work of my own.  Aside from incorporating it into sculpture I don’t work with glass as a primary medium, but every now and then it’s fun to make a tray.  It’s straight forward “what you see is what you get” manner helps clear and calm my mind in between elaborate clay projects or when working in clay is more of a wrestling match than a productive, fun pursuit.

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Jewelry bits, trays and coasters are nice palate cleansers in between clay projects

Now when I sit at the wheel I feel more back in the saddle.  Glazing here we come, yee hah!