Friday, February 19, 2021

How To Be a Good Fool

Little interesting to show on the progress of my sewing project so I share with you a couple of non-textile endeavors, starting with this urban sketch. I spotted this tree house down a side street while pausing at a 4-way stop. I'm constantly on the lookout for interesting buildings to add to my architecture sketchbook but am admittedly slow in returning to any to actually sketch. But I was spurred on by a fellow urban sketcher who lives in the Kansas City area and adds to the Urban Sketchers Facebook page such lovely sketches of homes and buildings that, this time of year, she works on while staying warm and dry in her car. I'd commented that she was making me want to join her on some of her drives, as she always adds commentary about the buildings' style or history and that is right up my alley. But she is too far away. But not far enough away to not have some influence on me as she urged me to quit dreaming about sketching my own buildings and get out in my car to do it! Ok, sounds like a New Year's resolution to me coupled with a bit of outside accountability.

So on a recent bright and sunny but still cold day, I gathered up my supplies and stopped nearby to capture this bit of color in an otherwise plain neighborhood. The other side faces toward the lake and mountains and I couldn't help but wonder what the view was out the ample windows, if indeed one would be high enough to see over the houses and catch sight of a bit of blue water.

The other thing I thought I'd share is from June of last year, a bit of multi-media play I never got around to adding here. And it seemed a perfect example of what Austin Kleon recently shared in a post he titled "Learn to Play the Fool." I'd been working on one of the Sketchbook School Revival classes that called for acrylic paint, and I had paint leftover on my brush and palette that seemed a shame to wash down the drain. Early on in my surface design experiments, I'd learned of expending paint onto a piece of plain fabric designated for this purpose. Eventually, that fabric will be covered in paint of various colors that might just provide an interesting background for something. I knew you could do the same onto paper so I turned to the back of the sketchbook and started dabbing paint in no particular pattern. I soon had a page that was nothing but ugly to my eye, and I couldn't imagine how it would serve as a first layer to anything. Random dabbing wasn't working for me like other artists says it does.

So I tried something different, something more in line with my aesthetics and just painted lines down a new page. Ahhhh, now I was relaxed and soothed and enjoying myself, my imagination seeing ways I could add over the top of these - 5 pages worth until all the acrylic paint was gone.

But there was still that ugly page. I'd been cutting out seahorse designs from catalogs and decided those purple and blue dabs that might peek out beyond my cuttings could read as underwater background. The turtles came from a greeting card and I finished off with bubbles added with pen. A good exercise in collaging and in covering up, although I still see more of the ugly background than I would like. But I think perhaps I decided not to post about it because this whole process and outcome made me feel like a fool. Yes, I really don't like it when I don't know what I'm doing. I don't like playing the fool, unless there's a positive result.


But in reading Austin's post and the people he quoted, I had the sense that the last couple of years when I've stepped away from textiles, I'd been doing just that, playing the fool, and it was a good thing. “It’s simple,” writes George Leonard in the “The Master and the Fool,” the epilogue of his book Mastery, “To be a learner, you’ve got to be willing to be a fool.”

"By fool, to be clear, I don’t mean a stupid, unthinking person, but one with the spirit of the medieval fool, the court jester, the carefree fool in the tarot deck who bears the awesome number zero, signifying the fertile void from which all creation springs, the state of emptiness that allows new things to come into being."

And here's how the playwright George Bernard Shaw encouraged an aspiring writer to “resolutely” make a fool of himself: 

"You say you are scarcely competent to write books just yet. That is just why I recommend you to learn. If I advised you to learn to skate, you would not reply that your balance was scarcely good enough yet. A man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself. Indeed he progresses in all things by resolutely making a fool of himself. You will never write a good book until you have written some bad ones."

Well said. Indeed, how many people decide not to sign up for a class because they don't know enough about the subject and don't want to look stupid (raising my hand here). 

And Austin himself gave me my answer to why I've been so doggedly trying different things, not really understanding why.

"In Show Your Work I also wrote that mastery isn’t enough for the searching life of the artist. “You can’t be content with mastery; you have to push yourself to become a student again.” (In some cases, literally: I’m thinking of Erik Satie, going back to the academy after he was already known as a composer.) And this starting over, or beginning again, learning something new, requires a willingness to look like a fool, or a “curious idiot.” "


Anonymous said...

I understand what you're saying & have been there myself! One thing I learned was to just do it & not be as concerned about the 'results'. A couple of years ago one of our fiber arts group members presented a program on the Japanese art of 'Wabi Sabi'-- finding perfection in the imperfect. I think that your use of leftover acrylics produced interesting perfectly imperfect results in the undersea collage! Stay well! Jan in WY

The Idaho Beauty said...

After posting this, I watched an episode of Quilting Arts that featured Lyric Kinard and her "make bad art" practice, useful especially if you're feeling blocked or uninspired. Knowing that you're working small with scraps that might just go in the trash anyway and with a specific prompt as guide takes the pressure off and it doesn't matter if the outcome of your experiments are successful or just bad art. But the part that really caught my ear was her saying that even if you make something bad, it can be a useful exercise if you take the time to study it to determine what about it has not been successful, i.e. a lot to be learned from your trial and error. That was certainly the case with the collage background - I knew almost immediately what was wrong about it. While much of what I added over the top of it I deem successful, on the whole, this is kinda bad art that taught me a lot.

Sherrie Spangler said...

I once had a counselor tell me to consistently practice the art of being imperfect. It was a very freeing feeling!

The Inside Stori said...

Enjoyed this thoughtful post…….we could all benefit from this thinking!

The Idaho Beauty said...

Sherrie, I've begun to experience this freedom of imperfection in my urban sketching. While I do try to get angles and proportions close to what I am viewing, I've also begun to let a lot of detail drop away and just immerse myself in the enjoyment of the process. Essence over perfection I guess you would say.