Thursday, July 11, 2013

Act of defiance; part 2

Does there really need to be a part 2? Why yes, yes I believe so.

Some awesome synchronicity happened from the last post which caused me to remember one of the thoughts I originally had when Judy Clements posted for advice about how to deal with painting for the public. She asked, I answered and that comment led to the first blog post on this topic. But the thread that keeps tickling is about process.

Process is very different from outcome. Are we outcome oriented or process oriented?  As a parent, I am much more interested in my children's process than any outcome. As an artist I tend to put outcome goals on myself. That can be dangerous territory.

Of course we have ideas about what we want to create, or at least a general direction. Frustration often stems from outcome and expectation not meeting up. Part of me thinks it is the artist's curse because the things you see in your mind are often going to be far more amazing than what our hands can create. An artist's mind is full of WOW.  How do you express that "wow" in adequate terms?

What if we release a lot of our ideas about outcome? What if we become like children again and learn to experiment. Become willing to create "crap" without labeling it as such? What if the process is the most important part and outcome secondary?

I'm not going to pretend I have this mastered. I care about adequately expressing what is in my doubt. It rarely matches up. I am learning that expectations in art are pretty much as deadly as expectations in any other part of life.  * Liberally apply some Zen Buddhism here*.

Art has a life of it's own. Sometimes the thing we imagined we would say with our art or try to create  has different ideas. Just as willingness to be vulnerable is powerful, so is release. Release of outcome. Release of judgment of our own art, even though that has it's place in growth as well. Release enough to be at one with our process. To immerse ourselves in the process. Even lose ourselves in it once in a while. Let's see where this art can take us.

Process and judgment. Those two things bring me back to painting for an audience.

Process is messy. It doesn't look very good at various stages. In fact, it looks pretty amateur. Process means making "mistakes" we didn't want to make. It means stopping and fixing those things or incorporating them. Process is often private, intense work.

What happens when you allow yourself to be eviscerated? To be laid bare? Exposed for the world during that process?  It feels oh-so-vulnerable. So oh-my-god-they-can-see-me-when-I-want-to-hide in the process.  It is the most exposed feeling I've ever had.

That is what brings up the insecurities. It gets comfortable to finish work and put it out for the world to see eventually. But to let just anybody see your process?

What does an artist's process look like?

That has as many answers as there are artists in the world. One thing I have realized over the years is that we need to see process. We need to see the mess. The not-quite-there form. We need to see artist's struggle, see them question themselves. We need to know we share similarities.

It is far too easy to put yourself in the category of "I could never do that" and let go. Watching an artist during the creation of art is fascinating. Watching birth is fascinating!  Birth of all kinds, metaphorical or not is messy business.

Inviting people into my mess has helped me learn so much. It has helped me connect with my audience in a whole new way. Keeping them out of that process makes art a mystery. A mystery and a dance to which they have not been invited. I love inviting people into my world now. It keeps me humble because dang, I make a lot of mistakes. It keeps me connected because they can ask questions while they watch it unfold right in front of them. It shows people what process looks like and encourages.

People need to know about the mess of birth. That the frustrations which accompany creation are okay. That they are not alone. That you welcome the mess.

It was really awesome to watch world renowned body artist Craig Tracy and his sweetie Ashley Breaux painting for a huge audience during the Palate to Palette event in Chattanooga recently. Their willingness to be surrounded by noise and questions and photos and hub-bub gave so many of us a chance to see their work flow in person. As a body painter it was empowering. I learned about tools during this observation and solved some of my own challenges. Rather than intimidating, it was growth.

Do we have a responsibility to share our process with others? Not necessarily. Only the individual can choose that. Solitude has a very important role to play as well.

For me, it has been a crucial part of my evolution as an artist. My hope is that others realize the insecurities are going to surface. They exist for most of us at first. You don't have to take them seriously though.

As my friend Patti Peters says when those voices start tripping me up...."Shut UP Ren. It always turns out fine. Just paint."

Just. Paint.

             Photo courtesy of the brilliantly talented Keith Dixon Studios.

Special thanks to client and friend Renee Bowman for commissioning this piece and for letting me share it in such a public manner!

Monday, July 08, 2013

Acts of defiance

Demonstration for Flat Rock Middle School Students, 2013

I am an artist. Not often the one I'd like to be. But here I am, stumbling along, learning all the time and quieting those voices who try to tell me "not enough".

Not good enough. Not talented like those other know, the REAL artists. Not dedicated enough to my craft because I didn't get a degree or formal training. 

But an artist of sorts. The kind who comes and goes from her craft with little sincerity other than a need to have a method of expression in order to quiet herself. In order to find ways to say things I can't otherwise say. To focus my angst and swells of desire to see and do everything in this world. To keep from exploding.

I have been a dabbling artist my whole life. A practicing artist, the kind who makes some money here and there, for most of my adult life. Then I found the magic of body painting. 

I remember discovering this amazing art form in 2004. Suddenly my Superpowers* came into clear focus, my ability for creation and collaboration had found their home. Their WOW. I knew I wanted to paint people forever and that I would never be done with this. I just knew. Deep in my core. 

So body painting led to body painting shows. Body painting shows came with a price. The most frightening thing of all for me as an artist. I had to paint in front of people. Real live people.

They would see my process. They would see that I was a fake, not a real artist. Just a silly girl trying to do something she wasn't qualified to do. Certainly not for an audience. Buying some paint and painting a few people does not make you an artist. It can't fool them. Not for long.

But see, I had committed to this show, to this painting for a live audience throughout the day as a big "fuck you" to those voices telling me; not good enough. I do that frequently you know. 

Body art show at Nelson Fine Art, 2012

Like the day I hung a canvas painting right over the fireplace that I wasn't happy with. The painting I wasn't sure I'd ever be happy with. "People will see this" they said. "People will laugh" they said.  "People will know you aren't a real artist" they said. "Fuck off and die" I answered. "I'm hanging it up anyway."

So I did.

Guess what?  Nobody laughed. Nobody thought less of me. In fact, it inspired a few people. 

The voices got a little bit quieter. They could see I meant business.

But then my very first body art show came around. They started getting louder again. "Fuck off, I'm painting anyway" I reminded them.

So I did.

Guess what?  People were thrilled to see someone body painting live. To see several of us body painting live.  
Some of them had never heard of body painting and here was a room full of locals, willing to expose themselves (quite literally) to share this amazing art form.

The voices got less intense again.

Practice painting in studio, Jonesborough TN

I have continued in this manner many times over. Every time I paint for the public, which is now a regular activity, I feel that little nudge of "what if I can't think of anything new?" It is now a whisper...a silly flirt of a thing I can smile at and remember when it had more power. It is familiar, so I don't mind it's silly little attempts, failing as they are. 

Sharing your art with the world, with a live audience is often daunting. Sharing anything you care deeply about is hard at first. It won't get easier if you keep trusting those voices of disbelief. Telling it to "fuck off" is as simple as picking up the brush. It is as simple as saying "yes" to some request. It is doing the thing you do. Over and over and over again until you know, without a doubt, that your dreams and desires are far more powerful than the voices that say "wait, don't expose yourself...don't be vulnerable".

There is a great power in choosing to be vulnerable. Putting your art or music out in the world is a willingness to choose vulnerability. A willingness to be strong. A willingness to grow and to inspire others.

There will also be naysayers. Someone who doesn't appreciate your art. Someone who doesn't like it even. Gasp!! You aren't painting (drawing/singing/dancing) for them. You're doing it for you and for those who find themselves connecting to it. Let the others go. It's ok.

The last time I painted live for an art event, I was working with my back to the passing crowd so they could see my model. Portfolio and magazine articles about my work were spread out on the table next to me, for the interested. Someone behind me stopped and with a snort of derision said something about how "goth is the one thing that never goes away". 

Painting for Mini-Documentary filmed by Jami L. Bennett**

GOTH?? My art was being perceived as GOTH?  I was so annoyed I almost couldn't continue. His one inaccurate perception  (probably based on the Halloween sugar skull painting) was enough to make me mutter under my breath several times throughout the evening. "Goth? I'll show him goth!"  Did he not see the beautiful maternity bellies I had painted? Did he not glance at those sweet baby feet of tiny twins?

You know what? I wasn't painting for him. I am not painting for the people who see body painting as some freak show or for those who want to buy yet another paint-by-number landscape. I paint for me. I paint for the humans who come to me with a desire to express themselves or to find healing.  I paint for the chance to get better, to learn and to continue to inspire and be inspired. I paint.

Because I paint, because I care deeply, I will continue to paint in front of audiences. I will share my art form because some person, somewhere is going to connect with it. No voice in my head, no fear is worth letting go of the desire. 

Tell the voice to "fuck off". Right now. Today. Say "yes" to something you've been wanting to do that scares you. Move....just keep moving. It will be ok. I promise.

The voices of fear, the voices of "not enough" are only as strong as we allow them to be. The love for a thing is their Kryptonite. Our determination, their death. As we paint while people watch, their opinions and thoughts are really none of our business. We are about your business of creation. Breathe deep and watch it be born....

We choose how we answer those voices in every response. Every act of picking up a brush. Every direction that is opposite of safety. Let our response be an act of defiance.

*Credit to Fabeku Fatunmise for the notion of Superpowers and how to find them.  
**Mini-Documentary available at YouTube for viewing.

Photos courtesy of the brilliant and amazing Keith Dixon Studios.