How is it that I call myself an Artist while others do not? When I ask this question, do I mean that others do not call me an Artist? Or do I mean that others do not call themselves Artists? It’s a matter of interpretation, isn’t it? Who gets the authority to define who is an Artist and who is not? ‘
On the day I was conceived – when that mysterious Energy caused atoms to join with other atoms to form molecules, to create cells, which then split and/or multiplied according to a specific plan that some call DNA – was it written into that plan that I am an Artist? Or that I should someday call myself an Artist? Is it a Choice, or a Destiny? And if I should choose to call myself an Artist, will others agree? And if they don’t agree, will I choose to bestow upon them the authority to remove that quality from my identity?
Each morning for more than two years, I sat on a stool before a mass of Roma Plastilina clay, an assortment of wire and wooden tools, photographs of my first-born daughter, and an intention to be totally immersed in the practice of Seeing and coordinating my fingers with my eyes to manipulate the clay to represent what I see – to be totally present in every moment that I sit in this practice.
After many years of painting portrait commissions – artistic “products” with deadlines and expectations of perfect likeness of someone’s beloved – I wanted to explore portraiture as a “practice” with no deadlines and no expectations. Never having done a three-dimensional portrait before, I judged that it would be a challenge, but that I would be able to approach it with a degree of innocence – as if I were a beginner.
My paintings capture one view, one angle, an illusion of a three-dimensional, living, breathing person – a moment in their life, a likeness which will be recognized by others as an accurate representation of their personality, as well as their physical features. A sculpture is also an illusion, but it must capture an infinite number of views and angles. While I have many photographs of my daughter, each one represents a different emotional moment in her life – a different mood, and a different view and angle and a different period of her physical development. The challenge, I thought is to use these photographs as reference, seeing what is really there and filling in the missing parts – the infinite views and angles – from assumed information, without assuming too much about what is actually there.
According to the art supply catalog: “Roma Plastilina will never harden, crust or deteriorate. This modeling clay has uniform plasticity that improves through use and with age. It’s smooth, even texture and consistency respond perfectly to every touch of the sculptor’s tool.” And I find this to be true.
But what I’ve learned from my practice is “This clay is dust of the earth, mixed with oil and sulphur, held together by that mysterious Energy which causes atoms to join with other atoms to form molecules – basically the same atoms that we’re made of held together by the same mysterious Energy that holds us together, with just a slightly different molecular structure. “Dust to Dust!”
Each day I come to the sculpture with my baggage of the day — thoughts, doubts, judgments, distrotions, emotions, inadequacies (real or imagined) and fears of inadequacies (real and imagined.) If I am able to put all these aside, to tune in to the perfection of what IS – what I am shown without the clouds of my baggage – I am then able to ride on the Fingers of God – Creation itself – and watch form follow form. I am no longer an individual using clay and tools to manipulate mass. I am the Observer of my fingers following the Flow of Form!
I am shown the genetic inheritance of my grandmother’s cheekbones; her father’s mother’s lower lip; my mother’s hairline; her father’s jawline – all from faint remembrances of photographs and visions remembered. I am shown, in her form, the fleeting resemblance of another artist’s painting of the Virgin Mary. Her clay eyes seem to follow my fingers in amusement as I catch myself struggling to make her pretty, when she knows that she already is. She is the ultimate creation of the Ultimate Creator and I, simply by being present, am privileged to know what that means. I am allowed to feel the bone structure beneath the flesh and I am given hints of both sad and happy memories that cause the muscles around the mouth to form the smile I recognize as hers. I learn that there are no straight lines, no hard angles, only one form flowing into another in a way that is so graceful and elegant it cannot be expressed except with tears of joy and awe!
And I come to know that we, the living creatures – Creations! – are only one form flowing into another in a way that is so graceful and elegant it cannot be expressed by childlike imitation of the Ultimate Creator – each individual one of us as unique and minute as an atom!
And I wonder at the expression I have heard all my life from others who do not call themselves artists: “I can’t draw a straight line!” And how did that get to be a reason when there are no straight lines in the works of the Ultimate Creator?
And I wonder. Does this experience, this practice, then make me an Artist? If I never pronounce the sculpture “Finished?” If I continue to practice for the rest of my days and never present it to the world and allow another to judge it, and me, and to proclaim that I am, or I am NOT an Artist? What then?
This very thought is representative of the “baggage” I bring to the practice every day. I suspect that thoughts such as this is what keeps some from knowing that we are ALL Artists.
I also learn from my morning practice: To be an Artist is both a Choice and a Destiny. It is written into the DNA of every individual. The Ultimate Creator created us “in His (Her) Image.” Her/His Image is without form, yet every form is an expression of His/Her Image.
We were given our senses to appreciate and learn from the Creation of the Ultimate Creator. We are able to hear the great symphonies of life in the songs of the birds, in the roar of the waves, the rustle of the wind in the trees and grasses, and the percussion of a thunderstorm; to see the dramatic colors in the sunset, the intricate patterns of a snowflake; the delicate, iridescent wings of a dragonfly . . . the examples are also infinite! Each variance that makes each one unique, we are wise enough not to judge as imperfections, until the baggage of the judgmental mind comes in.
We are given the Choice to imitate the Master – to sit with tools and materials (any will do) and listen and watch the Master Creator at work. Michaelangelo said that he merely released the forms from the stone. Mozart wrote down the music that he heard. And you know the rest . . . we call them geniuses. I’m guessing that during the course of our day to day lives, we all sometimes succumb to Attention Deficit Disorder. And sometimes we remember what it’s like – to listen, to watch. These are moments of inspiration!. And sometimes we forget. These are moments of “Writer’s Block,” “Artists Block,” “Absence of the Muse.” But we’re always creating, whether we do it consciously, or unconsciously. When we do it consciously our writing, our paintings, our sculptures, our music, our dance, our business, our relationships, our food preparation – everything we do, our very Life itself, makes us all Artists, because it is no longer the I, the Ego, who does the work. We are merely privileged to watch, to listen, and to ride on the fingers of God!