Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Soul Searching pt 2

I've been putting a lot of thought into the meaning behind my art. This is mostly because of reading Luann Udell's blog ( about her art. She has put a lot of time and thought into self discovery and writing, finding her way from making art "to make people happy" to a place where her art is not only a powerful force in her own life but a powerful force in anyone's life who reads and connects with her story. I'm incredibly moved when I read what she has to say about why she does what she does. Time and space are things that we all struggle against in our own ways throughout life, and she has a way of creating art that feels like it transcends time... that transcendence is something that I think we all want, deep down.

Her story moves me nearly to tears. It touches my heart, it makes me feel so incredible when I look at her tiny horses... almost as if I can see them running free. Thinking about her fish who are grumpy because they miss their oceans brings so much imagery and inspiration into my heart, artistically and spiritually.

Reading all that she has to say has me thinking about my own art, thinking quite hard. It's been on my mind almost constantly for months now, but I feel that I'm not much closer to an answer than I was before.

Why do I do what I do?

I have theories, but it's kind of weird to have something that's only a theory when it involves your own heart and mind. It feels like I should know, in a factual sense, but I don't. I feel kind of clueless.

I know that I draw because it makes me happy, I know that I feel better when I do it and that it is very calming and soothing for me. I know that what I draw are things I find beautiful... but doesn't every artist do that? I know that I take what I do for granted... I forget that not everyone can sit down and sketch what's in their head and have it actually look like what they were thinking. I should know this... I've played Pictionary enough in my life. I forget that what comes so easy and natural for me doesn't for everyone else.

I have taught art classes to kids ranging in ages from five to twenty, and there was a lot of lessons there for me. The younger kids usually weren't afraid to try and make something, they had a freedom in their will to create because they hadn't yet reached the point in their life where they had not yet placed other people's opinions of their abilities ahead of their desire to create. I think there is also a factor in the common tendancy of adults to say, universally, that they think anything a kid has made is great. We don't have the same expectations of children as we do of adults, and I think that is something that hurts us as we age. Being judged more and more harshly just because of growing up (or being grown up) can prevent us from pursuing new things.

With the teens and young adults, if they didn't already have any interest in drawing the students were very hesitant to even try to draw. There was a lot of fear about what people would think of what they'd drawn, and fear that it would come out horrible so they didn't even want to try. This idea goes far beyond art, it carries through in everything that we do. So many times we come to something new and we don't try because we are afraid of failing. No matter what we think that failure could bring (from personal disappointment to peer disappointment to authoritative disappointment) it is more than we're willing to face.

Another thing I noticed was that students of all ages had a strong tendancy to just dupilicate whatever the example project was. If it was a clay tile in a star shape, at least 1/3 of the class would make a clay tile in a star shape. If the example was a drawing of a chair (with the option to draw anything they wanted), at least 1/3 of the class would draw a chair. Every class had one or more students that would sit and kind of stare at their un-finished project, then notice what someone else was doing and end up doing something similar.

Humans look to each other to know what we should be doing. This is one of those traits that has been bred into us through evolution - those who follow the leader lived longer lives and were able to produce more offspring. This is a trait that is also common in the animal world, seen both in how babies watch their parents to learn and also in pack behavior amongst canines, felines, and the like. Birds deer, and others listen to and watch each other for signals that danger is coming or if it's safe to focus on foraging for food or drinking water, letting their guard down a little. In us, it is reflected in our social system. We look to others for guidance, for the "right way", to follow their lead so that we'll fit in. This can be as simple as wearing what is popular to the complexity of the relationship dynamics.

We are, essentially, bred and raised to not trust our own instincts. We grow up learning not to be true to ourselves because it opens up doors to painful experiences. The flip side of the coins is that those doors open us to incredibly beautiful experiences as well, but it is normal to play it safe.

Every time in my class, when introducing a project, we'd ask the students to come up with an idea by brainstorming in their notebook/journals. And every time, many would stare at a blank page, frozen in uncertainty over what they should do. Some students tried to feel us out for suggestions on what to do, others flat out expected us to tell them what they should do. We explained how the project was about them and therefore needed to come from their own hearts, but there was a whole lot of resistance to this idea. It's sad that when we are given the creative freedom to do anything we want to do, we freeze. It happens to most of us at one point or another, in many different situations.

We're afraid of freedom. This is because we're afraid that what we choose when we have the freedom to choose could be wrong. We've grown into adults who are afraid to do the wrong thing. We're afraid of making mistakes, hurting ourselves or others, or being laughed at. Most people are far more comfortable working on something creatively as long as they are given a definite direction in which to take the project.

An example would be that you can paint any kind of dog you want, but it has to be a dog. It's easy to be given something so specific and it's fun to then choose the breed of dog that you like the most. Within those boundaries, you can then enjoy the smaller piece of freedom you're given. You don't have to decide anything other than the breed of dog and how to paint it, and it's much easier to rationalize and defend those smaller decisions. It's hard to explain why of all the things in the world, you decided to paint a bench. There's just too much possibility, and too many questions you may not yourself be able to answer.

Being given slack on your leash is far more comfortable than being completely unleashed.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about what societal standards I have been afraid of, and why.

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