What Art Means to Me (sort of), circa 2001

This is hard for me to to talk about, and hard to write about.

I am afraid of sounding pretentious, of sounding foolish, of being foolish. Most of all, I am terrified of failure. If I talk about what I am trying to do, that makes it real. It implies some additional level of commitment. If I change my mind, if I don't "succeed", then I fail.

So of course I realize that avoiding the issue, avoiding the commitment, and never even trying, would be the worst failure of all. But that does not make this easier.

I had a very nice phone conversation with my mother recently, where we actually talked about my feelings and ambivalence toward art. It was the best conversation I have had on the subject; generally I don't talk about it, and when I do, others don't really seem to engage or relate to what I am saying. This keeps the conversations very short, and unhelpful. In the call with mother, mostly I talked, and she listened, but she really did hear and respond to me, and have some good comments, although I think she got a bit tired of the topic before I did!

So perhaps writing is a better way to explore my feelings and develop a better understanding of myself. I don't think I want to pay a counselor, after all. I do need to come to grips with my fears and the issues that have kept me from really committing myself to creating artwork.

I have been drawn to art since I was young. I liked to look at pictures, and loved rich illustrations in my books at least as much as the stories. I used draw quite a lot, and as I grew older, I think I wanted to be an artist, although I don't know if I ever said as much out loud.

However I don't recall ever enjoying art class in school, and my one attempt in a summer art program was a dismal failure. I hated the class and what I was trying to produce. My reaction was to stop attending class, without telling my family. I was found out, of course, and chastised for wasting the tuition; money for extras like summer programs was not easy for my divorced Mother to find.

In college, I took some art classes, art history, and humanities courses. I enjoyed the art history and humanities, but did not enjoy the drawing or color theory classes. I did not want to fill my sketch book as required, and did not like anything I produced. I was intimidated and frustrated. There was no joy in it at all, and I stopped taking art classes. Eventually I quit school for almost two years; when I went back to college I became an applied math, computer science major.

That was the end of my dabbling in art for many years.

For a while I did some batik work, generally on low cost clothing. I made Christmas and birthday presents for my family, using designs inspired by or copied from art and architecture books. But dealing with the wax removal became a problem; ironing or boiling never seemed to produce clean satisfactory results. For a while dry cleaners would remove wax, and the results were great, if a little costly, however environmental regulations change processes, and few dry cleaners would take the waxed clothing after a few years. I could no longer feel good about this work.

Then, years later, Michael and I helped to build a very artistic pump house at RoseWind, under the direction of a very playful construction contractor. Then we built our own home. This was a creative process, at least some of the time. And it was a growth process; I learned new skills with tools and materials. I gained confidence in my ability to make. Sometimes I even found a little time to play.

After the home was built, we had a lot of scrap material, and I began to play even more. As I started to landscape our garden, I created odd pieces of "yard art". I made trellises decorated with cutout cats, and cut raven silhouettes from plywood. I wanted to do more.

So another art classs! With some trepidation, I enrolled in a three day workshop on cement sculpture and casting. Success! I enjoyed the class, and I liked my class project enough to complete it fully in the following week, and display it in public. It is crude, but I like it. I have even tackled a second project, and experimented a little bit with some of the techniques that were demonstrated. My confidence is increasing a little. I can talk about it a bit without cringing!

Now I am enrolled in another class; a six week non-credit class at a branch junior college in town. I tell myself to have fun, and not to expect too much. I need to commit to working, but not to expect great art from myself. It is OK to produce OK art. I have to start somewhere. I will never create anything wonderful if I don't try, if I don't practice, if I don't learn some skills.

I am trying to gain a vocabulary, a grammar, and a facility with a visual language. I need technique. I need to explore the possibilities of various media. I need to be able to create the elements that I will later put together to actually express something. For now it is enough to sculpt or build a well formed recognizable cat, or raven. For now I can use these elements for decoration, or just recycle them. Later I may be able to use these elements to create art.