Monday, February 21, 2011

On Showing Up

 The other day, a friend  stopped by for a visit and asked how my sculpture was coming and my answer was'  "Good, I'm still showing up". Not so eloquent of an answer to be sure, but it occurred to me later that the success I enjoy and the facility I have with clay is directly related to my consistent studio practice.

There are plenty of reasons for not getting to the studio; family responsibilities and other obligations of life, but mostly these reasons are associated with self doubt. Questions such as; Is the idea or concept behind the work smart enough? Does my skill level allow me to complete the idea? How will my work be accepted among my peers and critics?  Can I get into the next exhibit or does my work make any sense?  Is my work original? I toil over these question constantly, while in the studio manipulating the clay and in my more quiet moments. As debilitating as these questions are, I feel the self doubt and get to work any way.

Early on in my art education, my first art teacher, Von Allen, would give us "budding artists" the assignment to make something 10 times, either from historical art references or a household tool or whatever we fancied that had 3 dimensional qualities. Her theory was that once a person begins to make something, the process activates the mind in ways that theorizing and thinking alone does not do. By the time her students reached the tenth attempt, the starting point would fade into the back ground and through the natural creative process the unique voice of the maker/student would emerge.

I still continue this practice in my day to day studio time. I have no special innate talent except possibly an affinity to labor over a piece for days or weeks until it "feels right". If you asked my friend JRH of if his bike building skill came easy, I bet he would tell you hours in the shop, lots of practice and a few failures along the way gave him the skill set to create beautiful and well crafted bicycles. Or my other friend Steve Olpin will confess that his artistic work with film and the documentary format is a result of working with the medium and refining his narrative voice. Ask another respected ceramic artist or artist in any other medium and I bet they will tell you something similar; work at your art every day and continually push your skill level, always ask the next question, and this will give rise to good work.

The other day I gave a slide lecture about my body of work from my early years until now. I realized that there is a general incline in the graph of my creative progress with a few spikes and steep upticks along the way. Many of these creative leaps occurred due to external input such as discovering Pre-Colombian ceramic sculpture in Graduate School or a work of fiction that I read at the right time in my artistic development. But none of these external influences would have had an aesthetic/conceptual impact on me had I not been in the studio.

I have about five sculptures that are in progress including, hares, catfish, monkey skulls, tortoises and crab claws that still require a conceptual connection. It will come. So to my friend, " My work IS going well because I am showing up and getting my hands dirty, waiting and coaxing the inevitable discovery."


Greer said...

Fabulous post. You should actually publish this--it's that good. It could have been written about any art, as you already know. It certainly resonates with my own writing, and gives me a kick in the butt. The idea of doing something ten times is fantastic. I often give beginning writers the task of writing their biography (something they easily know, one assumes) three times; in each progressive piece they cannot use any of the material they used in the previous piece. The first piece is usually, "I was born in (fill in the blank), I went to school at...," until, by the third piece, you get some fabulous writing, and the person gets a look at themselves from an angle they hadn't seen due to the condensed stories we've created about ourselves for public consumption. I also had an instructor who talked about the "doing" of art and how, if we could visualize a piece from start to finish, we would never have to do the work. She said it was in the doing of it that the piece revealed itself, as you so eloquently pointed out. Your piece has given me renewed inspiration to show up, and I appreciate that.

xo G

Eli said...

Great! Here's another comment

five said...

thank you russell.

I spend hours standing around a shop vice - sanding, polishing and thinking about where in all of this I actually fit in and whether or not my craft is valuable.

Thanks for the validation.

Russell Wrankle said...

Thank you Greer and "Five". All I can say is get to work and keep working and something will happen. I tell my students that there are no bad ideas, just ideas that haven't been taken far enough. As for writing, I like to do it and hope to continually get better. Writing is like making sculpture in a lot of ways, you build on an idea and keep adding words until there are too many, then start subtracting. In the studio, I do the same with clay.

Anonymous said...

I love the depth and eloquence of your blog posts!
If you are your hare it seems to me that eventually you will have to
bring your skulls closer in proximity to the hare itself since death is inevitable. As you do this the price of each piece should increase
because you are then accepting death as part of life and like your
mug (that your friend left you) which you now value more because it raises the value of daily life you show that you value your life and
your own work more as well.... just a thought (probably not much
I also had a thought about the claws. did you feel helpless about your dad's death? like if you had the tools (your hands) you would've been able to do something more for him. but since he died
you felt that by placing a foreign object on your hare you were in some way saying that his dying was beyond your control due to your
unnatural extensions?

India said...

Its a good idea that you showed to us the process on how the artisan made the fabulous sculptures
clay tiles.