Tuesday, June 05, 2018

A Different Kind of Struggle

My latest non-textile art haul
Warning: lots of words and musings, quotations and links; one lousy picture.
I may be at least temporarily out of my struggling with my preparation of pieces for ArtWalk, there's a bigger struggle going on that keeps teasing me away from work with fiber. I keep buying sketchbooks and pens and paints and stencils and bookbinding supplies and other things that on the surface have nothing to do with my quilting, even as I am not using any of it on a consistent basis. At times I wondered if I'd lost interest in quilting altogether. At other times, I thought these diversions might simply be a way of procrastinating. I worked at rationalizing time spent away from fabric and stitch, doing my best to believe I was learning things that would cross over. Yeah, there was a bit of guilt every time I turned my back on the studio for something else. But even that guilt has mostly dropped away, and if my art quilts benefit from any of this (and I'm sure they do at least a little), more's the better. Because if I am enjoying new explorations, what difference does it make if I can link it to my primary creative venture. Except that I have so many at least partially formed designs and projects on the textile side that I still want to work on, would really like to see completed. The rest that I fill the time with feels frivolous sometimes, even when it is satisfying.

This interest in things not fiber feels a symptom of something bigger. There's an underlying restlessness I've been noticing for over a year, maybe even longer, that unnerves me because I think of it as unfamiliar and a sign that subconsciously I want change, to shake things up, and that is so unlike me. But it may not be as dire as all that. I've always dabble in new things, tried all kinds of creative things. It was only when I decided quilting was how I really wanted to spend my time that I narrowed my focus and mostly eliminated those other things. So much to learn about the craft of quilting, so many things to try, so many variations to explore, so many techniques to master, so many exhibits to get into. I'm not vain enough to think I've come to the end of what I can learn about quilting, especially quilting arts, and I still get a thrill when things come together in a piece that is especially good work. But I do feel competent in most areas and it does feel like I've accomplished much of what I'd hoped to. Perhaps I'm just to a point where I want to once again broaden my focus to include other things. And with the world at my fingertips via the internet, I am bombarded by fascinating and beautiful images, tickling my brain with ideas of the places I could go, the things I could try.

In the midst of my musing, Austin Kleon to the rescue! Nothing like a good quotation to alleviate guilt and help one see all this is just the natural progression of things. In his post "What do you want to Learn?" he talks about mastery, "branding", and how to re-invent yourself. There's a good video link too that he transcribes quite a bit of. But these are what caught my eye:

"When you feel like you’ve learned whatever there is to learn from what you’re doing, it’s time to change course and find something new to learn so that you can move forward. You can’t be content with mastery; you have to push yourself to become a student again." from his book Show Your Work

"Every single person is a learning machine. You want the challenge of trying something new, figuring out how to do it, mastering it, and then starting all over again. You want to Learn, Leap, and Repeat." Whitney Johnson

Well, I've always said I am like a sponge, gathering information from all kinds of sources, making links and finding places to apply it. "Book learning" mostly, although I must admit I've done the same with my explorations of all kinds with fiber and fabric. I am a student at heart. I don't really want to be confined to a narrow path or recognizable "brand" as talked about in the video.

In another post shortly after, Austin approaches this subject again in "Learning for learning's sake." Just the title had me thinking, "Ah - that's me." He starts right out with a new premise, not what do you want to learn, but what's next? Yes, good question, and this may be exactly what my subconscious has been asking. And he immediately follows up with what's been needlessly bothering me, what if this next thing has nothing to do with your primary thing, that "it’s not professional development, it’s a hobby.” Disclaimer here - he's addressing people who make a living at what they do, which I do not. Yet like Austin, I've always bristled at being termed an amateur or hobbyist in spite of the professional manner with which I've always approached my craft and the exhibiting of it. So for arguments sake, lets just say all of us artists are professionals and anything we do outside of our narrow field that does not directly have "value" to that field is just a hobby.

"First off, I’m trying to imagine Thoreau or Leonardo limiting their interests to “professional development.”

Second, I am so tired of hearing “hobbyist” and “amateur” thrown around as pejorative terms. It’s such a lame, macho move. God forbid we ever do anything for pleasure or love."

There. That is what I needed to hear. And this:

"Creative people are curious people, and part of being a creative person is allowing yourself the freedom to let your curiosity lead you down strange, divergent paths. You just cannot predict how what you learn will end up “paying off” later. Who’s to say what is and what isn’t professional development?"

Indeed, I AM a curious person, as was my father who was always pointing things out to me that I'd walked right by or over, and asking questions, always wanting to know more. I have a hard time understanding people who aren't curious and questioning. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that as my physical health improves, my cognitive health is back on track too, restless to keep learning, asking what's next?


Olga Norris said...

Warning: this comment may ramble somewhat.

First, like you I have a fatal (?) attraction to things stationery: pens, notebooks, pencils, papers, .... And I am also intrigued, fascinated with the idea of making artists books. At one point I had a whole shelf of sketchbooks and notebooks which had either nothing, or one (torn out) page in them.

I also used to give in to temptation to purchase fabrics, beads, threads, etc. with a view to making something with them. This started when I was in a salaried occupation, but expanded when I first retired from that career.

After years of trying to find my creative voice I realised that someone else would make better use of all this alluring stuff which I had manifestly not needed. I am still cutting away all that is not obviously necessary, encouraged by the thought that someone else could well derive more practical pleasure from possession of such goodies.

I too shrink from the descriptive hobby-iste; but also realise that I cannot either describe myself as a professional. My work is a means of self-expression, and if some people buy what I make, then that is a bonus. I am certainly serious about what I do, and try to find out as much about technique as I can. I have always wanted to find out as much as possible about art, artists, history, media and categories, materials, museums, etc. etc. and like you focus deeply into methods of making especially if they affect, or could affect my own work.

But unlike those professionals whose time is money, we self-expressionists can indulge our instincts to explore as far as we like beyond the limits of our expertise (whatever level that might be). Curiosity is one of the essentials of life, I believe, and should be pursued. Just as our body needs food, so our brain needs information.

In many ways I am coming to the conclusion that as far as my main self-expressive activity goes I am becoming more excluding in my focus (I'm still working that out); but - that certainly does not stop me thinking about other projects, books to read, courses to follow, etc. I am lucky in being a fairly organised person and set aside different parcels of time for different occupations - but am also learning not to worry if elements spill over. (Guilt is so often needless, and destructive.) All that input leads to nutritious nourishment, and leads to the best outcome: more questions to ask, more doors to open, more aspects to look at and see.

Phew! We should have been sipping coffee or a cool drink during that!

The Idaho Beauty said...

Thank you Olga, for such a thoughtful and thorough response. You deserve more than a cool drink for making it through my post and responding as if we were sitting together, perhaps on a park bench or at an exhibit, musing away. I love your term "self-expressionists" - it is such a better description of people like us.

While much of my quilting supplies have been with me for decades, these other directions and their materials are too new to know where I will go with them and when. I'm just starting to consider what of my decades old "friends" might seek new homes but the attachment is still strong, as well as that ingrained frugal nature believing I might be sorry if one bit of it goes out of my possession. And since I don't NEED to deal with it at the moment, I choose to let it sit and do the occasional sparking of insight or inspiration.

For years I collected State quilt documentation books, back when this was just starting and I was avidly researching and taking coursework on quilt history. I am sad to say that much of what is in those are not as appealing to me as they once were. It is the one thing that I am seriously considering parting with, thinking it would give me pleasure if I could convince my local library to add them to their collection. We shall see. All I need do is pick one up to flip through and no doubt I will change my mind. I truly have a difficult time letting go of things.

In the meantime, your scheduling of blocks of time for different activities is one I've been thinking about. For a brief time I did try that out, noticing how many different things I could approach when I didn't think I had to spend a great deal of time on any one thing and could move from one to the other with a certain ease. It was exhilarating and moved me along quite well. My biggest problem these days is organizing my time. I spent too much time of the last 3 or 4 years barely having the energy to do the minimum to keep daily life going, let alone have extra for much that was creative which may be one of the reasons I was drawn back into playing with things like a student knowing none of this would ever have to be exhibit worthy. I've forgotten how to order my days, sometimes surprised that I have a gap in time AND energy to fill it. Guess I need to start a different kind of "to do" list for my days. Glad you mentioned it.

As for guilt, it is indeed often needless and destructive. I recently made a connection to a story my yoga teacher would tell about throwing arrows. The first arrow is just life, as in you stub your toe. But the second and the third and the fourth arrows, those you throw yourself, as in I'm so clumsy, people will laugh at me, I can't do anything right. Guilt, I now realize, is often just throwing arrow.

Great discussion, lots (more) to think about, thanks!

Kathy Pitts said...

I love your thoughtful posts. Sometimes they hit me like a slap across the side of my head, as in, wow, that's me. Keep them coming.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Oh, that is so good to hear, Kathleen. I have often had that feeling of "I'm alone on this" only to discover what I'm feeling or thinking is actually quite common. And also that there may be a way out of it (if it is a thing holding me back), a way forward if need be, or perhaps just the reassurance that it's quite ok to be where I am. So writing the sorts of post that I often do is my way of paying it forward and hopefully help others along their creative journey. :-)