Living Without Limits, & Learning To Love Surprises
My new year began with some disappointments and being laid out with a wretched cold, so rather than sulk I thought it was a good time to pen this entry I’d been thinking about for awhile. Hopeful messages are good medicine for the brain at least ;). The first week of January is a time that seems to be made for reflecting, as a new season begins and things are still slow after the rush of the holidays. As I made some professional changes this year that will allow me to put my whole focus into not only my own art business but teaching, something I’ve discovered I love doing no matter the age or ability level I am working with, I feel compelled to share something about myself that many may not know.
Though I now talk all day as my vocation, this is not something I originally would have thought possible. I had a speech delay which I went to therapy for as a young child. It was discovered I knew and understood words, but just wasn’t saying them. I’ve been told even as a baby I was quiet, no babbling or anything, just silence and the occasional prolonged grunt that sounded like a lawnmower motor. I can only imagine what my parents must have been thinking! Though I was soon able to communicate fluently at home, around people I wasn’t as familiar with it was still a struggle. No one that heard me playing in the backyard at home would ever think of me as being “reserved”. Still at school, which I found for the most part enjoyable, I just didn’t know how to communicate with others. I remember one of my most embarrassing 5-year-old moments was when I got called out while playing in a group for participating in the imaginative play by just repeating whatever my best friend made her dinosaur say over and over (We were all playing with plastic dinosaurs at the indoor sandbox station, THE best station in the entire kindergarten). “Why do you just keep saying what she’s saying?” I was asked, followed by the dreaded “You’re weird!” Sigh … my camouflage had failed. When playing by myself I could think up all sorts of great lines and fantastical stories – I was never short on creativity – I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get my brain to “work” around other people.
Even up to high school I experienced a degree of what I now know is called “selective mutism” in public spaces, though public speaking or giving formal presentations in front of a group never bothered me a bit. In college, I ended up choosing to study interior design and had also thought about web design, because I figured there would be a little bit of back and forth interface with clients since I did enjoy people and hated being entirely alone, but then I could go back into my little office space and be creative without constant social pressures – the perfect balance. What do they say about the best laid plans?
I had an English teacher in high school once tell the class “Who you are at 10 years old is your truest self, and you will always come back to that”. I think about that often. As an 8-10 year old kid, I thought I wanted to be a teacher and loved “playing school” with my dolls so much that my parents even got me special little stamps and grade books from the local teacher supply store to enhance the realism of my playacting. I volunteered as a helper for kids programs in the summer, and even job shadowed at my old elementary school when it was required in my first year of middle school. However, I found it stressful not knowing how a real person was going to act and react, whereas with my dolls I was writing the script. I never did like surprises.
I pretty much wrote off that future life plan as I became a teenager, realizing I just didn’t have the skills for it. After graduating from college and experiencing a parade of poorly fitting jobs and pretty toxic work environments which is its own story for another day, I got an email from some mailing list I was on advertising that a local gallery was looking for instructors for a new day program. At this point in my life my confidence in my ability to be a functional human was at an all time low, so I decided what the hell, at least I know I can do art. Let’s give this a go. The rest is history.
I personally have a faith, and I believe receiving that email (and the fact that I actually opened and read it at just the right time!) was quite literally divine intervention. I teach at a variety of locations now outside of my main “hub” where I started, but I truly believe if I hadn’t began my foray into art instruction with the Artshop prograrm at Creative 360 in an environment of radical acceptance that embraces people’s quirks and operates like its own odd little family, I probably wouldn’t have kept at it. The main point of all this personal storytelling is, don’t limit yourself.
What you can do at the moment is not all you’ll be able to do forever. Sometimes, it isn’t that there is something wrong with you, it’s that you aren’t in the right environment.
I am in no way doing what I thought I’d be doing when I was 18, but my 10 year old self may not be that surprised. Guess what? I still am terrible at socializing with new people and making friends. But, I’ve been told I’m a wonderful teacher and that I make people feel valued, and help them believe they can do things they never thought they could do. I’m good with that.
Let’s Chat! – Meaningfully Engaging As Creatives
With the closing of another year, a common practice is setting meaningful intentions for the year newly beginning. As creatives we may have goals to widen our skillset, participate in more shows or events, or increase our sales by x amount. However, something that’s been on my mind a lot lately is how can we set achievable goals on better engaging with fellow creators? Though nothing is across the board, it often boggles my mind that creatives seem to have the hardest time getting along with each other than any other group. I believe a lot of this stems from the hustle culture that necessitates working in a creative field in the 2020s. It’s natural for competition and jealousy to seep in, and everyone is working so hard, they can’t imagine anyone else is putting in the same effort or perhaps even more than they are. Art, music, writing, theatre, and so forth are also incredibly personal work. There are some stories others’ work tells that we just aren’t going to “get” because maybe it wasn’t made for us, and that’s ok. Just because something doesn’t resonate with us doesn’t make it obsolete, though it can make it hard for us to appreciate and leave us shaking our heads and asking “why does this exist?” On the flip side, because it’s so personal, when we pour our heart and soul into something and it falls flat to viewers, clients, or project managers, that takes a hell of a lot more of a toll than if you’re pitching a new ad campaign at the shop you work at and people decide to go in another direction. It feels like not just your ideas are being rejected, but YOU as a person.
Even amongst new artists, engaging other creators with a sense of appreciation and curiosity can be tough. For those of you new to the blog, I run a program geared towards providing arts education to adults with disabilities along with the general public, so when you add into the mix that the type of art each person physically can do varies widely coupled with the fact that many of them don’t get a lot of significant achievement based compliments or recognition in their day to day, sometimes tempers flare and the claws come out. This idea of meaningfully engaging without judgement is something I’ve been thinking about all year (well, year(s) – see a transcript of a journal entry from the summer of 2021 at the bottom that I feel loosely relates), but it has never seemed more relevant than in the current heated discussions about AI Art. I follow an autistic artist on facebook who uses AI art creation as a form of therapy. Unfortunately, they have received so many hateful comments personally attacking their existence and character after sharing their creations that their support staff had to completely take over the page. Logging on was becoming detrimental to their mental health. I am a very non-techy artist who has only recently began to seriously dabble in digital art using a Wacom tablet I took years to conquer a fear of and a nearly 15 year old version of Adobe Photoshop. Safe to say I have zero interest in using any of these AI programs myself. I also fully understand the ethical concerns of how AI programs have been “trained” to respond to prompts, copyright issues, and creators profiting off of AI generated images that are quite literally based on someone else’s work. Meaningful engagement doesn’t mean we can’t speak our mind and have to pretend to like everything, but nor should we be cruelly attacking each other. Basically, play nice.
Tips for meaningful engagement with creatives who may do things differently than you do, or whose art you may not understand or even flat out dislike:
- Ask them where their ideas come from
- Ask them about their process
- Ask them how they got interested in the style or medium they choose to work in
- Ask them what they hope viewers see in their work
- Ask them what success looks like to them
- Ask yourself if I were reaching all my goals, would this other person’s work/process/tools/philosophy bother me as much as it does right now?
At the end of the day, you are not going to like everything and you don’t have to : No matter how many people I talk to, I will probably always find performance art incredibly awkward, and I will never understand how people get emotional looking at pure abstract art that is just colors and shapes. Corporate art(link) or art that just mimics current aesthetic trends and fads will always make me cringe a little. And that’s ok! What’s not ok is making other creatives feel inferior simply because their format doesn’t fit your personal taste. If creatives became more willing to work together and strengthen each other, plan together and really listen to each other, imagine all the powerful things we could build in this world!
(An additional note: The above image is a merch design I completed this Fall for The Breaking Bread Village, a local non-profit that is all about meaningful engagement amongst people of vast differences. I’d encourage you to watch some of their content as it has definitely changed the way I listen and respond when faced with people I disagree with. You can be true to yourself and your beliefs AND be kind.)
Journal entry from 6/15/21:
Art is not about your ego. Art is not about proving you are better than someone else. Art is not solely about extensive education, nor is it solely about countless hours spent in practice. Art is about making people happy and inspired, but it is not about giving people only what they want. Art is not only about happy feelings. Art should make you think but not give up, not give up but let go. Art is about giving yourself a gift; of time, of space, of presence. Art is about reaching out, grabbing others’ hands but is no less valid if no one else but the creator ever sees it. Art is communication. Art reveals individuals’ truth. Art doesn’t have to be pretty, but sometimes all it will say is “look at me, I’m colorful and beautiful” and that’s okay too. Art has to be an expression to work. “I had fun doing this” counts as an expression. Art celebrates without objectifying. Art honors. Art unlocks potential. If you value creativity, you should be excited about anyone taking the time to be passionate about creating something, even if the end result doesn’t do anything for you. Art isn’t always about or for you, but creating is for everyone.
Hello 2023! : Pantone Color Of The Year Project
I’ve mentioned previously that aside from Christmas my favorite thing about the end of the year is the unveiling of Pantone’s new color of the year. Since I started on youtube, I have enjoyed doing a project demo revolving around the chosen color each December. Another holiday artist tradition I have is creating a new series of whimsical, themed Santa ACEOs for my ebay shop. This year, I combined these two traditions into one project as I show you how I illustrate my miniature Santa portraits, this one with a Viva Magenta theme.
By a stroke of good fortune, one of my most popular teaching projects I developed this year features a heavy accent of this vibrant color. Pre-Covid, I was teaching a Creative Minds class to my adults with disabilities at Creative 360. After teaching, I shared many of the projects here if you’re inclined to take a look. The idea of Creative Minds is to learn about accomplished artists from the past and present and create projects based on their process with the goal of discovering our own artistic voice. Creative Minds has a special focus on artists who think differently than what is considered “typical”. They have disabilities, mental health struggles, weren’t classically educated, dealt with poverty. It’s important for people to see examples of why having different types of brains and backgrounds in our world is vital and something to be celebrated, not approached with apprehension. After Covid, like with many things, the class series died for a bit. This Fall, I brought it back successfully and opened it up as an evening workshop series to make it more available to all ages and abilities.
I covered globally exhibited artist Judith Scott previously, but streamlined the project a bit more this time. Scott is an artist who had down syndrome and was deaf, and was unfortunately discounted and underestimated for most of her life. When her twin sister became her guardian and brought her to a groundbreaking arts program near their home in California, Judith on her own grabbed any objects nearby and started wrapping them in yarn. Her eye for composition was soon recognized, and long story short her art has now been exhibited worldwide. This is why art is not a luxury. Art gives people a voice, and unlocks hidden abilities.
For this new iteration of the Judith Scott project, students were given an 8×10 canvas, a stick, and a plethora of yarn. The yarn that has a different texture like fuzziness, or that is netted and stretches apart is especially fun though the old standard would still work well. We painted the canvas with an abstract design. I used a large round brush to dab streaks across the canvas one color at a time until there was no white left. Then, while that’s drying take the stick and wrap wrap wrap! Yarn can be tied at the beginning and ends points, and the tail tucked under the wrapping. I also added some felt leaves as a finishing touch but that part is in no way necessary. If the branch has a lot of contact points where it touches the canvas, it can be glued at those points but my stick was extra twisty so I poked holes in the canvas which I threaded wire through, twisting the ends in the back of the canvas to anchor it. If any readers are in the Midland, Michigan area I’d encourage you to stop by Creative 360, we are always doing something new and fun!
Color is a fantastic starting point for inspiration. You can view my previous Color Of The Year projects below.
1 Mantra Has Saved My Sanity In The 2nd Half Of This Year
So, this isn’t really an art related post, but is living life not an art itself? I love to pass on anything I come across that has helped me, be it creative techniques or like today, otherwise techniques because why needlessly struggle?
People are complicated, we know this. They often don’t say what they mean, or when they do say what they mean they don’t direct it at the person who really needs to hear it. As someone who is not only one of those “highly sensitive people” but also tends to take others’ words at literal face value – it’s just the way my brain works – this leads to a lot of unnecessary anxiety, hurt feelings, and me scrambling around trying to fix things I was never meant to fix. I really like to fix and bring order, at least I think I do until it causes a total internal meltdown or burnout. Perhaps that is why I loved the Sims games so much in high school and college … Hm…
I unfortunately can’t be a Sims overlord and control people’s interactions and behaviors in real life, so I had to change my own mindset. One day, in the midst of a heated conversation, this sentence just popped into my head and out of my mouth, “I’m not really the one you’re mad at right now“… and everything changed.
Now, this doesn’t mean we abdicate all responsibility for how others are feeling. There are times we will accidentally hurt someone and need to accept what we’ve done and make amends. I’m talking about the times when we are taking the heat just because we are there, and the other person is struggling through things we may know nothing about. Especially those of us who come across as a “safe presence” can catch a lot of explosions. It may be because the other person doesn’t know why they are feeling the way they do, and needs to get back a sense of control so being able to point at someone nearby and say “This is the cause of why I feel this way right now” or “This is the reason why instance x went wrong today” makes them feel like they are making headway in figuring out why things are the way they are. It could be that the other person knows that if they blew up at the person in their life who actually upset them, this other person wouldn’t take it sitting down and would throw it right back, or gaslight them, or react violently and so it’s just easier to unload on someone they know won’t fight back as much. It could be that they are really upset with themselves, but aren’t ready to take the weight of that responsibility, it’s just too painful right now. Then of course, some people just aren’t rational and we may never know the reason. It took me a long time to learn that the reason doesn’t matter as much as our response. Because in the end, does knowing the reason why someone just tore us a new one when all we did was ask them how their day is going really help us feel any better?
A test that helps me is responding to accusing statements with questions. For example, if a loved one, coworker, whatever says, “You’re always holding me back!” (I did a whole other post on this one) or “All you ever do is discourage me!” I would respond with, “That’s not what I want to do, as your friend I truly want you to be successful and have your best life. Can you tell me how I’m standing in your way so I don’t continue to be unhelpful?” or “I’m sorry, that was definitely not my intent. What did I say that made you feel that way so I can be more mindful of my words in the future?” Sometimes, they will have an answer and guess what? That means I get to learn and do better next time. Oftentimes, however, they will have no idea and cannot even come up with a specific example of why they have said what they just said. This runs along the same lines of filtering out constructive criticism versus not so much. If someone at work or home says, “I’m so frustrated, you really made a mess of x!” and you respond with, “I’m sorry, I truly felt I was doing my best. What could I have done differently?” and they do not have an answer … I’m not the one you’re mad at.
The last thing to keep in mind is that this simple statement is for you. Sometimes when you speak it out loud it may make a lightbulb go off in the other person, but there’s also a chance it may not. You’re not saying it to correct someone else, you’re saying it to correct your mindset so you don’t continue going through life a stressed out mess because you are blaming yourself for things that were never in your control to begin with. Sometimes it won’t even be constructive or appropriate in the moment to speak those words to the other person – say it to yourself in your head anyway. I’m not the one they’re really mad at.
It seems simple, but the weight it lifts is immense.