Soft afternoon – change of light and color and the last blossoms of Fall before leaf-change. I am in familiar territory again after working through time constraints and energy traps – grateful for this long-desired spell of studio time…and happy to be writing again.
I am diving back into the flow of work and ideas – able to take some time to consider relationships, connections, to move ideas forward and bring their essence closer to being. To be estranged from the heart of one’s creative light can be confusing and disturbing. Sometimes the condition is the result of choices made, actions taken; sometimes it seems to come without provocation or invitation. In either case it can stay well beyond any reasonable degree of tolerance and can make one’s creative process feel jerky, awkward, and strained …until one’s “groove” is recovered. I am glad to be here in the flow once more, however temporary it may be.
Today I have been working with some nuno-felted cloth from the “vault”… dusted off, overdyed and recast as a wearable construction – the final form is starting to take shape, one act at a time. This process is a deep one. It represents a kind of cross-fertilization between past and present, taking on a level of complexity I did not have access to when the original cloth first came into being. Cut and textured, with curious fringe –ties which double as the means for configuring the piece to a variety of shapes and forms on the body. It is a history unfolding, this piece – an accumulation of layers and strands of past action and memory. It starts to feel flexible, alive as it unpacks the memories of hopes and fears bound up in creating new work. This is what I have been waiting for.
I knew I had found my calling when I began my amazing creative immersion five years ago. I also knew instinctively that I needed to give it space and time to grow. What a gift to have had that opportunity! Over time, I also grew to realize I would continue to support the growth and progress of my creative endeavors for the remainder of my life (and I’m hoping for the sake of the Work it there will be sufficient time within which to do that!). In truth, I have been working on this, somewhat haphazardly, for a long time. Many leads were followed but this was the first time I actually felt I was truly “on the path.” So it is now with that “certainty” that I move from my current lifestyle-as-uninterrupted-creative-effusion to something. . .well. . .less so. Of course, I really haven’t stopped the current, merely rechanneled it and, as a result, the material by product – i.e., the size and nature of the bodies of work – is changing. What I am discovering is that as my life-focus, priorities, and supporting activities change, the intensity of my creative work and effort are actually increasing. In short, I am distilling years of creative immersion into an essence which will (I hope) nourish the work for years to come.
Without that lovely 5-year period, I would not have the discipline (or the courage) to do what I am doing now, nor would I feel I have a future of creative possibility still left to “unpack,” which I do. It is for this reason that I experience no despair or regret over the shift, or worry over a future of incomplete satisfaction, or remorse for things not done in the past/lost to the past. When one has a calling and a passion for something, no obstacle is large enough to undermine it. Things may change, time and energy, access and resources, and many other variables may change, but the essence of the calling – the root connection to the passion – continues. . .indeed, it cannot be denied. It may be expressed in small works and in the temporal interstices of a life crowded with other responsibilities and relationships. But it is still the Work. And in truth, the quality of immersion that came out of my 5-year “grant” period is such that I am able to concentrate and focus within much smaller blocks of time and yield similar results. I have prior experienced of this phenomenon as an outgrowth of movement meditation (thank you Dunya!) – visiting very deep wells in a relatively short period of time – so I know it is possible in any absorptive activity. Although I would be deluding myself if I believed I would not be visited by moments of despair and frustration along the way, there is a certain comfort in knowing I can recognize and have access to that state as I move forward in my creative evolution.
When I reach these junctures in my life and work (as I have noted before), I find I am inspired and uplifted by Lewis Hyde who has a talent for articulating the nature of art, creativity and the creative spirit in contemporary life in The Gift. “We nourish the spirit by [realizing and] disbursing our gifts. . . .,” he writes, and I am reminded that the calling, the passion, the work are the gifts which carry with them an imperative – they must be expressed and shared else they perish. The key to sustaining the work in the face of time and energy challenges is to surrender to this imperative. . .and to trust that the work will find its way into the cloth, onto paper or canvas, through the limbs, the voice, heart, mind. . .in fullness of time.
After years of thinking about it, I finally had the wherewithal to start a vegetable garden this Spring. It has been incredibly gratifying and I am learning quite a lot, not just about vegetables, but about my commitment to keeping this endeavor alive. I am also reminded of the extent to which the plant world nourishes: literally/physically, spiritually/emotionally, mentally, and creatively. I bring all of this up because the garden is always such a fitting metaphor for all aspects of life and work. When one nourishes the garden, waters and feeds the soil, attends to individual plants’ needs, the garden flourishes. And so with creative work, which thrives on the regular infusion of love, imagination, effort (and surrender). Inattention to the garden manifests in ways not unlike inattention to one’s creative work – it withers and retreats into dormancy and, if allowed to languish, finally enters a phase of decline.
Like the Fool on the edge of the abyss, we are challenged to keep our creative acts and aspirations alive and nourished in the face of post-modern life’s demands, but we so would like to surrender to the pull of the abyss. Such is often the case with artists and dreamers at one time or another (and maybe every day) – dancing along the edge of that cliff between one necessity and the other.
In recent months, for the sake of my physical being (food, roof over one’s head, other related commitments and obligations), I have been through a readjustment in my life situation that resulted in a certain degree of neglect (I won’t say abandonment) of my Work (I use the initial cap intentionally). Now that I have been able, gratefully, to re-immerse myself in those labors (albeit with less time but with no less intensity), I reflect that I came dangerously close to completely losing this precious gift (the gift of the work itself and the gift of being able to actually do it). Although it was painful to endure what turned out to be a temporary hiatus from the Studio, the experience definitely clarified what is important in all of this, and what is less so. It was also a direct realization of the vulnerable nature of a creative life.
If one is determined to keep the Work from withering and retreating, the Work (and the maker) must be nourished on a regular, arguably daily, basis. This sustained attention, devotion and sacrifice to the work is the “gratitude” Lewis Hyde speaks about in The Gift. This is a dense but fluid book and one I would suggest no artist be without. The following series of passages are relevant to recent experience:
Once a gift has stirred within us, it is up to us to develop it. There is a reciprocal labor in the maturation of a talent. The gift will continue to discharge its energy so long as we attend to it in return. . . . .A gift isn’t fully realized until it is given away. . . .Those who will not acknowledge gratitude or who refuse to labor in its service neither free their gifts
nor really come to possess them. . . .
The labor of gratitude is the middle term in the passage of a gift. It is wholly different from the ‘obligation’ we feel when we accept something we don’t really want. . . .A gift that has the power to change us awakens a part of the soul. But we cannot accept the gift until we can meet it as an equal. We therefore submit ourselves to the labor of becoming like the gift. Giving a return gift is the final act in the labor of gratitude, and it is also, therefore, the true acceptance of the original gift. . . . (pp. 62-65)
I often turn to Lewis Hyde when I am trying to make sense of the conflicts that arise between the timelessness of creative labors and the necessities of life in the early 21st century….the need to nourish our creative spirit and the need to nourish our physical bodies; the desire to do the work without charging a fee for it and the need to “make a living;” and the philosophical tangle embedded in the desire to earn a livelihood from the Work itself versus doing the Work for its own sake and making a living in some other way. We have all felt the desire to just not have to worry about the money and do the Work but also knowing that if we had a choice between one form of work over an art- or design-based livelihood, we would probably choose the latter. Then, when the choice is made, it is sometimes hard to grapple with the demands (and the heartbreaks) of an art-based livelihood.
This is all material for the mind to chew on while the Labor continues. No resolution here but to keep on going. It certainly isn’t the first and won’t be the last time I encounter and do the dance with these issues and questions. Meanwhile….back to nourishing the seed I planted and raised to its present form 5 years ago(!) There is no question but that the Labor will and must continue.
It has been a challenging past several months but the creative juices are flowing again and not a moment too soon! I resume this blog with a commitment …to update it more frequently with what I hope will be inspiring or creatively stimulating content! Meanwhile, I wanted to share some images with you, including the new textural shot to the left. Summer is upon us!
My wearable art business Mariposa Artisan Textiles entered its 4th year officially with the Beacon Hill Open House this past weekend. My gracious host, Patty O’Keefe Hutton (www.contemporaryicons.com), created a beautiful nest for both myself and Michelle Jordan (www.jordanclaystudio.com) within which to present our work, and the result was a wonderfully blended and complementary mix. Thank you to all who dropped by to say hello and see the latest pieces!!….Moving into the present, I am “back in the saddle” with a full production schedule ahead. The felt keeps rolling and the dyepots flow. I am also preparing to teach, in mid-October, the first of two nuno felt workshops. Much is evolving, in-flux and indeed progressing, at Studio Mariposa. This is an expansive time as much energy is directed toward building work and being out in the world. However, I’m determined to find the space and time for deeper reflection. With an open heart, I move forward.