Thursday, January 01, 2015

Time to Ponder

Post Christmas snow - view from my back deck
The end of a year, the beginning of the next...the holidays bracketing these gives many souls time to reflect. In northern climes, the weather often helps encourage this pause to ponder, if not on events and accomplishments of the past year, then on what the coming year might bring. Did we do a good job, are we happy with how we spent our time? Can we do better, do we feel a change is in order?

Neighbor kids without a care in the world

Frankly, I'm not feeling too philosophical, in spite of a post-Christmas snowfall that has me happily hunkering down and feeling at last like it is truly the end of the year. Unlike many artists, I'm not listing what I finished or what goals I met. I've felt it has been a fairly unproductive year in all aspects of my life compared to most, yet when composing the annual Christmas letter, that unproductive year sounded pretty full as I remembered the many things I did explore, enjoy and accomplish. It was just a different year with different explorations than I normally allow myself. That's really all I needed to know.

I am pondering some things though, as I look toward the new year. My art group has had several discussions about what comprises good design and how to spot it in artwork. And then, how can you critique your own work when in the midst of creating and once the work is done? Once that discussion began, I kept running across things on the internet addressing just these issues, like this blog post on The Art of Critique by Elizabeth Barton which has some interesting things to say about judging abstract art. Some articles and discussions I find helpful, some I'm not sure I totally agree with, but it has made me stop and think about my process and my biases, my weaknesses and strengths, and why I'm doing this anyway, what I want to accomplish, what direction I want to take.

One such prodder came in a recent Robert Genn e-letter addressing the subject of style which you can read in full here. The part that particularly spoke to me was this:

"I was conscious from the beginning of wanting to make something that was different from the work of others. I wanted to be my own man. I've always noticed perfectly competent work that loses our interest because it is so frightfully "standard." I didn't want to be standard. I made up my mind to produce work that was unique, even at the expense of academic norms. I was consciously looking for deviation."

Snow-covered tamaracks
I'm not really focused on producing work that is unique, in fact have grown to dislike the use of that term, where "distinctive" is really closer to the mark. But I have been very aware of my mindset of the last year or so of finding a different presentation to the ideas and designs floating in my head. There are few truly new subjects to interpret, and in my mind, nothing wrong with using the ones we are so familiar with. The trick is to present those subjects in a new or newer way, a distinctive way, an interesting way. To be perfectly competent but not standard. I think this is what led me to explore non-quilting endeavors, to see if I could shake something loose and find my own distinctive way of presenting designs that often start out pretty standard. I'm thinking that when I find myself stuck in the midst of creating or disappointed with a finished piece, this is what's going on - I'm trying to reach beyond the ordinary, and that's not always easy. I'm looking for that thing that draws the viewers in and keeps them interested.

So I think I am figuring things out, then stumble across this list of "rules" which I can see I need to consider. So much of this is about attitude and apparently, I could use an attitude shift. Number 8 is the only one that really threw me since I would have thought the two go hand in hand. But that may be my problem - I'm so analytical that I don't know when to turn it off. When the right brain is allowed to take over, the work almost always flows effortlessly. You can read more about the creation of this set of rules here.

Have I given you some things to ponder or have you already worked it all out for yourself? I think the bottom line for me is Rule #7 - I've got to get back to putting in the work, and no matter what 2015 brings my way, I need to be fearless about it. I've had a little sticky note in my studio for about 6 years that says, "Lose the fear!" - having realized that it was indeed fear that was holding me back in my creative life. It's been only a few years ago that I realized I was letting fear rule the rest of my life as well. I've managed to lose the creative fear for stretches, only to find I've let it back in again. I've learned how to control the rest of my fear, although there are also lapses there - I'm only human. So as I hinted in a previous post, the resolution word for 2015 will be "fearless" for my life as a whole. I'm counting on fearless to move me forward when I start to falter. Perhaps it will lead me to great things, or at the very least, open up my world.


Sherrie Spangler said...

I really enjoyed this post. It got me thinking of what I want to examine this year. I like your choice of "fearless" -- go for it!

Living to work - working to live said...

Sheila, I love those Rules! It's tough being an artist in isolation, and it's very tough when you come to it later in life full of all that angst that years instil but we can do it!! Just keep making Art and the style will come - that's what I tell myself. Happy new year!! X

The Inside Stori said...

I echo Sherrie's comment....about enjoying this that deadlines are pretty much over for me.....I will begin fresh and see where that takes me. Hoping to use the 'no happy' approach for the moment!

Chris said...

Sheila, this was a really good blog. I always love your insights into things. Of course you know from my blog that I was a fan of rule 7.

Cheryl Gebhart said...

Very interesting post. I have to admit that I am also too analytical a lot of the time - I don't really know HOW to turn that part of my brain off. But I keep trying.