Monday, April 17, 2017

What's the difference between being a writer and an artist?

What is the difference between being a creative writer and an artist? Aside from learning different skill sets, of course. This question popped in my mind while listening to a podcast recently.

The Pug Party podcast is hosted by Roxanne Cable, artist, and her husband James Siciliano, writer. They talk about art, writing, being nerds, and occasionally pugs. (They own two.) As someone who has been a writer and is now an artist, it's really interesting to hear their perspectives on their work.

In their first episode, they talked about their creative processes. James spoke about story circles, which is a way of envisioning Joseph Campbell's the Hero's Journey.

Unfortunately, what sometimes happens to me in listening to podcasts is that it provokes my own thought processes and I end up going down a completely different track. Which may mean I'm not as good a listener as I thought I was, but also, I rarely listen to podcasts because I tend to drift off with one voice talking for too long. I am much better at watching or reading. Or in person.

I ended up thinking about my own work both as a writer (I used the Hero's Journey loosely -- it was more about turning points for me) and as an artist.

In writing, there is a ton of work on character etc that doesn't get seen and in the longer format of a novella or novel, you travel with the character through a part of their life.

In my art, it is more a moment, a glimpse into a story: whether it is a moment of my life or an imagined character. 

Artist Michael Reardon in a video teaching painting watercolor cityscapes remarked, " [This] window has all these fancy mullioned patterns, but it’s really not the story...”  The story for him is told in the play of light and shadow around buildings and water, not in every single detail.

This editing is true in creating both art and writing -- unless you're James Joyce or Diana Gabaldon (whose books have reams of detail) -- you choose what to show. (This is why you so rarely read about a character going to the bathroom unless its intrinsic to the plot.)

In my art, the story is still there, often intuitively, not intentionally placed, and the viewer of the artwork can bring as much or as little into the piece as they want. This interaction exists in reading, of course, but a lot more is spelled out. (Baroom ching) The reader gets to imagine the characters and the scenes, helped by the writer but it is ultimately the reader's own story/life experience that comes into play.

What differences do you see between being a writer and an artist?

Monday, April 10, 2017

an Artistic Autobiography

When I went through Education for Ministry, we learned four different ways to tell our spiritual autobiography, where God had shown Godself in my life. Two of the ways were by using a timeline or by using images.

Now that I have recognized that I am an artist and in particular a visual artist instead of a writer of fiction, I thought it would be interesting to see where art has been -- or where I have been an artist -- in my life.

The first story I remember writing was a few sentences on top of a page illustrating a blue monster, which represented the bullies in my young 8 year old life.

I remember my mom taking us kids to the art gallery, and I loved the quiet space and the art on the walls both realistic and expressionistic.

Art was one of my favorite subjects throughout primary (elementary/middle) school and high school. Projects leap out of my memory: using watercolor pencils to do a continuous line sketch of branches and the whorls within; creating a clay bowl without a wheel and the grey lizard I shaped from the memory of the little grey skinks/lizards that are so endemic where I grew up. 

Weirdly, art as a subject was also one where the fear of failure was real. I was pretty much an A student (except for home economics and sewing), but brain smarts had no place in art. At least, so I thought at the time. It was like diving in at the deep end.

Art became an elective in the last two years of high school and I took an extra unit of maths instead of art. It was the practical thing to do. But there was one free period that I had a week and I ended up sitting in on the art class, watching and chatting until the art teacher, Mr. C., told me if I was going to continue to be there, I had to submit art of my own. I bought a handful of pastels and some cheap watercolors.  I did the bare minimum and was a smart arse in the process, submitting a "painting" of a brown envelope, addressed and stamped. 

In the first year of university, I dabbled in recreating costume sketches from Drama class and drawing palms against the sky. (At the time, I was studying computer science and had Drama as my one Humanities course: art wasn't an option.) I also had this cartoon character that ended up in the margins of my notes.

After that first year in university, The visual arts drifted away, but I continued to write. I didn't come back to art until I started scrapbooking. Because, paper, obviously.

Then my part-time, on the side, writing career started to fizzle. I discovered Suzi Blu, a mixed media artist. Scrapbooking became mixed media and art journaling and I was hooked.

All my paintings of girls looked very po-faced, but I was having fun. There was delight and joy despite the frustration of not being able to draw what I wanted.
My paintings are now of strong women, not sulky girls, and I think they might be becoming recognizably mine.

That would be thanks to Lifebook 2015, which is a year of mixed media classes, creating paintings and journal pages with a whole bunch of teacher-artists, including the sweet and kind class coordinator, Tamara Laporte. It's through Lifebook 2015 and 2016 that I discovered different ways to paint faces. It's through Lifebook that I discovered Flora Bowley and got a taste of her intuitive painting method. 

And it is with Flora that I discovered painting *created* joy. Whether I was angry or upset or frustrated, painting abstractly on a canvas cleared out the negative feelings and brought a quiet and very real joy and even delight.

So that is where I am now. I manage to get into my art studio three to four times a week, despite working full time. On the weekends, I can spend hours in there, while during the work week, it might only be 15 minutes or so and it'd be a sketch, or putting down a layer of gesso or some collage.

Art is for myself, right now, no performance anxiety or "will they like it?" is needed, although I was excited to share two self portraits that are recognizably me and more recently got even more excited when two other artists I admire (Annie Hamman and Misty Mawn) complimented me on a third self-portrait and encouraged me to do more.

Wanting to do more is definitely something I want to do! As I've been reflecting on my word for the year, joy, art is a central part of that. This month's one little word project was to create a vision board of our word. Here's the art related one:

And that's the story so far!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Kindness is Infectious

A few people from my church have been standing with some friends outside a nearby Islamic Center with signs saying “We stand with you”, “We are all brothers and sisters” etc. They started doing it after the first travel ban executive order and are there during the main Friday prayer services. A little way to show love in a country that screams hate at Muslims.

I’d been wanting to go but there was always a reason not to. Friday is my tie-up-loose-ends, get ready for Shabbat day and I was concerned about the amount of time it would take from work. I had some overtime up my sleeve, saved for taking time off to make art, but doing this act of love was more important. So I finally went.

I’ve now been three times and it’s such a life-giving and life-receiving experience. We’re a mix of Christians, Jews and “just people”. We welcome all coming to prayer and they smile, wave and thank us … and return the kindness by feeding us and making sure we have something to drink, etc.  This is part of who they are, the great Middle Eastern core value of hospitality. It is a wonderful feeling, everybody loving on each other. It no longer is us vs. them, but brothers and sisters, humans acknowledging each other's existence and being kind.  It's kindness creating kindness creating kindness.  The love and kindness shown remains in my heart and ripples out to be shared with others into the next week. 

I think this is what the theologians (and the prophets and Jesus) mean when they talk about compassion and loving-kindness. The effects stay with you, growing your heart and you keep wanting to come back and give more love and kindness and receive more love and kindness.

How are you showing love and kindness?