Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Nothing to Fear but...

I am in the process of learning to swim after 30 some years of living with an intense phobia of water, especially water where the bottom is beyond sight. This Wednesday evening, I will be climbing into 12 feet of water and tackling that fear head-on. I am a person torn. Part of me is thrilled to take on this challenge, having waited so long to purge this particular demon from my soul. The calm pool awaits my plunge away from fear and into freedom. There is another side, however, that is much more primal and controlling. It grabs hold of my body, even when I'm standing next to deep water, safe on solid ground. There is seemingly no reasoning with myself when I am in that other place and I shake, gasp, and cry in protest of my planned leap into the unknown. It is a test of wills, raging inside me. I can imagine the future if I choose to leap and yet, I am blinded by the terror of the now.

It all comes down to trust. I have a great teacher, someone who is patient, understanding, attentive, and careful. I trust that he will not let me drown. But, more importantly, I must trust myself. I must move past what I fear and trust that something wonderful lies beneath, even if I cannot see it.

In some small way, art journaling is often like this. When I sit down to journal, the white page rises up to meet me, blind me, scare me into not proceeding. I stare at it, frozen, not by the emptiness but by the fullness of possibilities. I am afraid of getting lost in the page, of losing my way in my quest for the great entry, the perfect image, the innovative technique. I am afraid of letting go of the edge and falling where I may. And yet, paradoxically, that is exactly what I must do if I want to land anywhere meaningful.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Soul of the Thing


I read somewhere that when people are asked to name something they consider to be great art, da Vinci's Mona Lisa takes the first prize ribbon almost every time. And given the amount of people that pack into the Louvre each day just to catch a glimpse of Ms. Lisa from behind a sea of heads desperate to do the same, it seems da Vinci has a hit on his hands. But why?

I am of the mind that it isn't for daVinci's command of the human form or his mastery of value. Quite simply, Mona has a soul.

Henry Ward Beecher wrote that "Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his nature into his pictures." I think this is the very thing that makes something a "work of art." The technique is just the icing; the soul of the piece is the cake. Canvas, paint, paper, clay, metal, wire, ink, fiber: these are the substrates the artist loves and manipulates into a form. And like the golem of Jewish lore, the artist breathes life into that form with her enthusiasm, pain, insights, joys, triumphs, and faults. Sometimes, the kiss of the artist's soul is only recognizable to the artist; it is hidden away in journals and sketchbooks or supplanted by new, improved "golems." Sometimes, the work grows and becomes something more. It gains a life of its own beyond anything the artist could ever imagine and perhaps ultimately, it is protected by bulletproof glass in the world's premiere museum.

When I make art, I am not looking to create a masterpiece; I am hoping to create a life, an image that has a voice and a presence. The life I craft is not always pretty. In fact, most often it is ordinary, humble, quiet, and unpretentious. Sometimes, it is even ugly. Regardless of appearances, if I am successful, the work will be an extension of myself, a little piece of my soul that I offer up for viewing. Success can be hard to gauge though; Sometimes, the artist may think the soul is missing, that a misstep in technique obilterates the message or meaning. However, others may recognize the soul there even if the artist has given it up for lost. We must be careful not to let vicious inner critics blind us to what we have accomplished in even the most minor of works.

When a child draws, he or she doesn't see the crayon line that is too fat to be a neck, the smudge of jelly that serves as hair, or the arm that bends at an impossible angle. There are no ill-conceived perspectives or ill-proportioned features. There is simply the "thing" and the joy that created it. There is the twinkle in the eyes and the mystery that plays about the mouth. This is what draws us in and fills us up.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Beginning


Well, I have decided to leap blindly onto the electronic bandwagon and try out blogging. I'll share my art and my random thoughts & observations on trying to live an artistic life. I'm hoping that this experiment will encourage me to write more enthusiastically and prolifically. The more daily wonderings I can generate, the more material I'll have to explore in my art. And sometimes, it is just helpful to document everyday struggles and triumphs, transforming the internal into something external. That, after all, is the job of the artist, no matter the media or medium.

This journal page, from 04.28.06, is the beginning in my exploration of wabi-sabi inspired art journaling. I am experimenting with spacious layouts, textured backgrounds, muted color schemes, and the use of of as little pre-copyrighted and/or strongly pre-determined imagery as possible. Many pages draw on observations of the natural world as a springboard for journal entries.

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