One of my first assignments in art school was a total flop. I didn’t listen to my instincts and instead made what I thought I should make. What I wanted to do was take a pile of my old, worn pointe shoes from my very recent days as a dancer and create something three-dimensional (would have been my first use of recycled/found objects). But that idea felt too “out there” and risky. I couldn’t guarantee my fellow would-be illustrators wouldn’t laugh and the instructor critique it as being a really bad idea, therefore I didn’t take that chance.
I can’t remember what the final, two-dimensional piece even looked like, but I do remember it had a nice, formal, white matte frame around it. And I remember how it felt when I brought the piece to be critiqued.
When I got into class and saw some of the unique, creative, and “out there” pieces the other students had done, some of which sat on the floor, some on a table or desk, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I placed my nicely matted piece on the “crit rail” (the metal rail under the large white boards that lined most of the rooms) and felt like an idiot. I had made the wrong choice.
My review did not go well. A very big lesson in listening to my instincts (the pointe shoe idea may have flopped too, but at least it felt more like me).
What Could Have Been…Maybe
Flash forward three years, towards the end of my time at Art Center. By this point, I was doing things I wanted to do, trusting my instincts more. It took three years to build up this (more) fearless attitude, to be able to create what I wanted to create, what felt right, and then take whatever criticism followed.
For one of my assignments in a Fine Art class (vs. the Illustration part of my degree track), I created a “necklace” that was made completely out of paperclips.
The exact assignment escapes me, but the necklace received a good review in class. And as fortune would have it, we had a guest artist from Italy visiting, and she critiqued during this class as well. I can’t recall her name, and unfortunately I was not writing much back then so I don’t have any other documentation, but I remember an older woman, very kind, warm, yet intense and focused when she spoke to you. She pulled me aside after class and told me how much she admired the piece.
And…she said I should come to Italy some time, that she was interested in my work. She gave me her contact information.
And…I did nothing. I didn’t contact her.
Fear won the day.
Me? An artist? I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t have “work,” I can’t go to ITALY for Pete’s sake! That’s way too scary.
So the opportunity came and went. I let it slide.
But I did muster up the courage to put together a show. As a Fine Art student, you could reserve the undergrad gallery to show your work (technically Fine Art was my minor). A fellow student had shown in the gallery, and his show was a resounding success. Lots of people came to the opening. I decided I wanted to do that too (envy?), so I decided to take this leap. I was too afraid to go to Italy, but I could quietly create a show for the undergrad gallery (which was on the first level, in a far corner, at a point where it was below ground level, and on the day of my opening there was water leaking through the wall, onto the floor, from the outdoor sprinkler system…)
This was my first encounter with using a deadline to create work: you have reserved the space, now you have to make stuff to put IN the space. And try not to embarrass yourself.
It’s embarrassing now to look at photos of the work, most of which is pretty bad (I’ll spare you), but at the time I was really proud of my work, of the fact that I reserved the space and took the time to think about, and work up, enough pieces to fill the space.
The opening reception was not well attended, which was my first lesson in marketing and popularity. If you are well-connected, know lots of other people, this makes a difference in how many people show up for you. If you are shy and don’t have a lot of friends, your marketing efforts need to be amplified…a tad.
Fear and Letting Things Slide
Embarrassing or not, I do still love the ideas of the paperclip necklace and the construction paper chains (one professor said I hadn’t taken the paper chains far enough, it would have been better to fill the room with them…I agree!) I think my current work, however different, contains some DNA from those works.
And I still think about the Italian artist every so often, and I wonder what would have happened, how my life would have been altered, if I had taken her up on her offer. If I had taken that chance. I don’t have a big feeling of regret really, I don’t think I was ready for it, but what if I had felt the fear and gone anyway? Pushed myself beyond where I was at the time and just said what the hell, let’s see what happens?
It’s so easy to just let things slide. Getting your creative work in, keeping connected, in contact with people, doing the work, whatever that is…takes hard work. Diligence. Taking yourself beyond your limiting beliefs (my 1994 self that felt “you’re not an Artist!”), beyond what you think you are capable of…this is the challenge.