Sunday, March 21, 2010

Speaking Your Truth: The Journey Begins

One of the printing presses at Heartwood College of Art

Kathleen Buchanan, printmaker from Thomaston, led the printmaking workshop

Monotypes drying on the rack

My prints from the afternoon portion of the workshop


Heartwood's two mascots: Pencil and Timone

I had been eagerly awaiting my first weekend residency at Heartwood College of Art. It was a perfect day to hit the road with sunny blue skies and unseasonably warm temps. I shed my wool coat for the first time in many months, loaded the luggage, and cranked-up the radio for the seven hour drive. The past week had been particularly stressful and exhausting at work, and heading south was just what my soul needed.

When I arrived at Heartwood, I was warmly greeted by smiling faces, a gentle greyhound, confident cat, and delicious foods. As each of the seven "pioneer pod" arrived, we engaged in the usual "get to know you" chat and circle of "tell us a bit about yourself." Initially, we were a fairly similar group: All women, teachers in some capacity in our lives, and all thirsting for more....more knowledge, more art, more connections, more time. But by the end of the weekend, I looked around the room and thought how completely different each one of us is from the other. We each bring something unique to the mix, and each of us will act as a teacher for others. No, maybe not in a classroom sort of way, but in a real, deep, artistic and philosophical kind of way.

When we first meet in a group, we make judgments. We all like to pretend we don't. But we do. We think, from a person's clothing, or body language, or car they drive that we can pinpoint their beliefs, their lifestyles, or their interests. Sometimes we can get it a little right, but most times, we have a lot more to learn. Come Sunday, I had a completely different perspective and understanding of each of the women than I had on Friday evening, and I know that this is only the beginning of my getting to know and understand each one of them.

Friday night we set-up our work in-progress in the main gallery. This is always a bit stressful for artists I think, when putting your new (and in this case, incomplete) work up for others to view. Not knowing each others' comfort levels, we perhaps held back a bit. Each of the artists explained their process. It was a relief to hear that each of them, like me, had faced some unforeseen challenge. Yes, we had all been putting our work "out there" for several years, but we are now pushing ourselves to learn something new, and sometimes, learning something new can be a trying (and tiring!) process.

Saturday was a hands-on kind of day, which is my favorite! I love to get into a medium, get dirty, get focused, and experiment. We had a phenomenal instructor, printmaker Kathleen Buchanan from Thomaston. Thankfully, she was a patient teacher. We were encouraged to explore, have fun, and when it came time for critique, bless her soul, she was gentle! For many of us, this was a new medium and perhaps triggered some anxiety, but I think that we each ultimately had a grand time. It isn't often that we, especially women with super hectic lives, get to step out of normal routine and just "play".

Sunday offered up perhaps the most profound part of the weekend for me. We gathered around the huge, beautiful wooden circular table in the meeting room for a discussion of the Anne Lamott book "Bird by Bird." It wasn't exactly Oprah's book club with an in-depth conversation that analyzed every page of the script, but the book did offer a springboard for some relevant and meaningful conversation. Heartwood Dean Susan Wilder and President Berri Kramer spoke words of wisdom that made us think a bit deeper about our message in our art.

One thought that was discussed surrounded the idea of why do we create, and does anyone really care about our work as much as we do ourselves.

Yes. I am sure the answer is "Yes."

Artists feel compelled to create. That is why we are artists. It is akin to an addiction that monopolizes much of your waking time. We perhaps appear selfish when we feel the desire to spend more time in our studio than with other living, breathing beings. When we wake in the middle of the night, our minds won't rest because we are fixated on the current project or a new idea we want to see to fruition. We spend endless amounts of money on supplies and do insane things all in the name of art.

And, yes, it is important to others. Just think, what if Monet or Da Vinci had never shared their paintings? Think of the pleasure we feel when we walk into a museum and stare in awe at the great master works on the walls. Or the books we read, how they are enhanced with illustration. Or the movies we watch, each frame an artwork by a film-maker. I can go on and on with this list, and I think you would agree, we appreciate it when artists share!

On another level, it is about making a statement, leaving your print on this world, having your voice be heard. So, I know, you are thinking "who cares what I have to say?" Well, where would we be if Martin Luther King Jr. had said that same thing? Or the women who fought for the right to vote, or musicians who write lyrics that move us to tears?

With this in mind, I say it is the privilege AND the expectation that artists speak their truth. You never know when your visions will resonate with another and change a life or this world in a profound, maybe even historical way. We are documenting life, sometimes unknowingly, by connecting with our deeper selves and putting our own experiences into a tangible form to share with others.

This past weekend nine women artists began a journey together. Nine women artists are finding their voices....

Speaking their truth.


Unknown said...

Well said, Shanna. I came away with many of the same viewpoints and feelings that you expressed so eloquently in your blog.

I am anticipating wonderful things from myself and this group of amazing women! I can't wait to see it all unfold!

Happy creating!

Owl Who Laughs said...

Heartwood is lucky to have you. This is very informative, honest, and instructional for anyone entering grad school in the arts.

Lili said...

There's just something about being surrounded with other artists that lifts the spirits. I love the feeling of being surrounded with creative energy. Lucky you! ~Lili