Monday, November 23, 2009

The Gift of Complexity

My return to the studio has been relatively smooth, happily, though there have been a couple of bumps in the road. If you've never worked in a communal studio that is open to any paying member (or, indeed, been the member of any group that purports to have a common goal), you'll know what I'm talking about. There's always that one person who is so ridiculously clueless, no? Or who is not particularly serious. Or who can't imagine--and think you agree--that they aren't the center of the universe.

So there's that.

But this makes it so worth it:

Paradise, right? Well, yes, it is. That's not a joke. As far as I'm concerned, that is a pretty luxe set up as far as spaces in which one can teach oneself how to be happy.

Right now, I'm handbuilding. (I can throw pots on a wheel, but I never much enjoyed doing it. Everything was too wet and too cold and all the results were always too round. I knew when I began learning how to throw that The Brain wasn't going to put up with that for very long, and I was right. We stuck around long enough for our first throwing teacher, Martin, to teach us  two things:

One was that when we did finally manage to make a bowl that we really liked, we should take our wire tool and cut it in half. "One," he said, "it'll get you used to losing them. Which you'll be doing. A lot. And, two, it'll let you see how a bowl that you like is made. How thin or thick the walls are and how they curve up."

The other thing Martin taught us was that we should never throw bowls with the intention of improving them at the trimming stage. "Don't try and carve a bowl out of what you threw," he said, grimly.

But, Martin, I like carving!)


This, for example, is one of my carved Christmas ornaments. Yes, it's a squid. Yes, The Brain thinks a Christmas squid is just the thing. (Other Xmas ornament motifs approved by The Brain: a flounder, a kitty, a skeleton in a Santa Hat, a jellyfish, The Venus of Willendorf.) It's not my finest carving, but I'm still finding my way back to whatever limited skill I had when I put down my carving tools almost five years ago.

Another thing I'm working on, carved frames for mixed media pieces:

This one is called "The Gift of Complexity."  (When I'm finished, I usually carve a few words that come to mind on the back of the piece and that's what came to mind when I finished my little coconutty baby there.)

These little frames are made from a bag of Dave's old clay that I rolled out with my old rolling pin and cut into discs with a 3-inch round cookie cutter that I bought while estate sale-ing with Kelly First. (I know in my bones that the old woman who owned that cookie cutter used it to make biscochitos. I know it the way I know any true thing; I know it with my heart.) I didn't plan for those little clay discs to become what they became. They suggested it to me after they reached the stage where carving them made sense.

Yes, The Brain and I have come to the understanding that the clay has the larger hand in what it eventually becomes. Yes, I have tools to work the clay, but most of the time, it is the clay using its tools--me and The Brain--to get to where it wants to go. That is the most pleasurable thing about working with clay for me.

That leads me to something else:

A few nights ago at the studio, I spurned working in favor of talking with Dave and Mike. Somehow, our discussion came around to the online dating service they use, and I asked Mike if I could look at his profile. He agreed so we used the computer at the studio to look at the site. On his profile, Mike was talking about his likes and dislikes and all that stuff that you put on a dating profile, and one of the terms that he used was "my art." (As in, "I like to spend time working on my art.")

Now I don't know about you, but the phrase "my art" makes me cringe and feel embarrassed for the person using it. (Which I told Mike, which I suggested that he change, which he did change.) Here's why: There is no such thing as ownership of art. Art is a thing that exists in and of itself, outside of your efforts, outside of your attention. To refer to art as "my art" is as silly as referring to the universe as "my universe." ("I live in my universe"? Ugh. Self-centered. Delusional.) At best, you learn with time and effort how to tap into the force that is art, but does that make it yours? No. Does that mean you're actually creating art when you put forth the time and effort? No.

Trust me, I have lots to say about that, but I'll stop there. Except for this:

Art is not something you own, not even through doing; Art is something that, if you become skilled enough, may eventually deign to own you.

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