“…the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.” Art and Fear
Sixty work days have passed since the stone arrived from Indiana. During that time, I have worked in a variety of elements. There was a hurricane, a flood and a snow storm in which I was so mesmerized by the beautiful, big flakes I did not pay attention to the accumulation. It took 2 hours to drive the 16 miles home.
From November to mid February, temperatures hovered around freezing. As the humidity drops, the metal head on the sculpture hammer loosens on its wooden handle. To re-tighten the head, you soak the hammer in water so the wood will swell. One night, I left my hammer soaking in the bucket. The next morning, it was embedded in ice.
The rumble of thunder has also been a daily occurrence. The metal roof under which I work reverberates in the wind. The Beaufort Scale relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or on land. It describes near gale force winds as –“ Whole trees in motion. Effort needed to walk against the wind. Cars veer off road “… and blows limestone dust – everywhere (my note).
Fare una passeggiata
Everyday, I walk around the work space trying to get reception on my radio. If the clouds are heavy, I listen to Country Music. It’s Oldies if the wind is coming from the west. On clear days, it’s NPR. Because I never understood the magic of radio waves (nor how planes stay in the sky), I fare una passagiata using my radio like a divining rod, dowsing for a radio station.
Diane Rehm’s guest this week was Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. Her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead outlines issues that need to be addressed for women to be leaders. http://www.amazon.com/Lean-In-Women-Work-Will/dp/0385349947
In between intermittent grinding and hammering noises, I listen to their conversation. While describing her leadership style, Sandberg said: Done is better than Perfect.
“Fears about art making fall into two families: fears about yourself and fears about your reception by others. Fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.” Art and Fear
The image of Liber has emerged but there are still more layers of stone to peel back. Every time I think I am done, another unresolved section appears. And that process spirals around itself – like the proverbial onion – until the deadline arrives.
My art journey began when someone asked me during a workshop icebreaker: Who are you? I responded: a woman, a daughter, a sister, a sculptor. But I had never sculpted. So I started.
For the past 20 years, my identity has been determined by what I create. After years of questioning my talent, doubting my commitment, and feeling like a pretender, I still have a hard time answering – ‘an artist’ – when asked who am I.
My license plate reads: Isculpt. The plate is like wearing a very big nametag. My truck registration is up for renewal. The cost of a vanity plate has increased. And I wonder: if I don’t renew the plate, will I still answer – a sculptor – when asked who I am?
Artists are their own worst critics. The voices we carry from our past – from our families, our community and our experiences – color our current perceptions. The difference between acceptance and approval is subtle. Acceptance means having the artwork seen as “real art.”; approval means having people like it.
Once installed, Liber will be on view for at least 100 years. It will be my legacy. I want both approval and acceptance. I want it to be perfect.
I am learning to kayak. In preparation for this summer’s adventure, I decided to make my own Greenland Paddle. A Greenland paddle is a paddle in the style of those traditionally used by the Inuit of Greenland. It is made from wood and its form is more like a stick than a conventional looking paddle. I sculpt. It didn’t seem that it would be that difficult to ‘sculpt’ a paddle. http://www.bealepaddles.com/paddles.html
I signed up for an 8-hour workshop with the Hudson River Greenland Paddlers after which (as promised in the brochure) I’d have a custom paddle by the end of the day.
Using a straight edge, measuring tape, a draw knife, a plane, and some elbow grease, I proceeded to create my custom paddle from a 7 foot x 4 inch piece of Oregon cedar.
Just as I completed “carving” the loom, the draw knife slipped. There was now a gouge in my heretofore “perfect” paddle. I wanted to stop. The instructor told us he had made more than 600 paddles – each one an improvement on the previous. My beautiful paddle – with one small imperfection – was no longer good enough to me.
Why isn’t Good – Good Enough?
Advertizing is based on the notion that good isn’t good enough. There is always a new and improved version of something that currently works fine as it is. But we are all susceptible to the lure of the better version of a product, our homes, our relationships and ourselves.
Schools, in an attempt to make children feel better about report cards, changed the A – E system (C being good) to one that required teacher comments. Overtime a ‘C’ was always followed by the comment: Needs Improvement. C became unacceptable and equivalent to a failing grade. Good wasn’t good enough.
Culture of Discontent
We apply this same principle to our relationships. Most of the habits or traits that my friends complain about in their partners are the same characteristics that initially attracted them.
- Free spirited becomes irresponsible
- Steadfast becomes boring
- Self assured becomes close minded
There is even a book titled: Loving an Imperfect Man (Woman). Perfectionism seems to be deeply rooted in the expectations we have of, not only others, but of ourselves. Amazon lists 106 paperback books with the word ‘Perfectionism’ in the title. There is even one entitled: The Gifts of Imperfection. There are no books entitled: Good is Good Enough.
I finished carving the paddle, filled the small gouge with a little epoxy, and applied linseed oil liberally. My paddle is now a topic of conversation. And I have bragging rights. It works just fine (actually it works great; I need more practice.) The ‘mistake’ is a reminder of my journey – learning that ‘good’ is good enough.
The weavers of Oriental carpets create intentional imperfections as do Navaho rug makers. Each culture believes perfection can only be achieved by the Great Creator. It is hubris for an artist to believe they can create a perfect work.
The “Done is better than perfect” interview between Diane Rehm and Sandberg continued. The author then added: “At Facebook, we put products up and we try to learn and do better….we have a very iterative style …the process of not trying to do things til they are absolutely perfect but putting them out there and getting feedback, has served us well.” http://www.thedianerehmshow.org/shows
I have 20 more work days before Liber is to be installed. The members of the CCPL Sculpture Garden committee are coming to review the progress and provide input for changes. It is a challenge to be both an innovator and an interpreter and create a vision for the community - but that is my work.
The lessons you are meant to learn are in your work. To see them, you need only look at the work clearly – without judgement, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes, without emotional expectations. Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen…
Art and Fear