Monday, June 29, 2009

You Put Your Whole Self In, You Take Your Whole Self Out...

The Grand Tetons, outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where I enjoyed visiting many art galleries.

The "artist paint pots" in Yellowstone, with their bubbling hot springs, offered alluring arrays of colors and patterns. put your whole self in... and you shake it all about. You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around...and that's what it's all about!

Take an artist who lives and breathes artistic process from morning to night. Pluck her "whole self out" of her studio and put her "whole self in" to a driving tour of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota.

Twenty-four days and fifty six hundred miles give an artist a lot of time to consider things. Most of the places we were traveling through we could not even get Verizon cell phone coverage, let alone internet connections. The familiar social exchanges all dropped away.

Add to that driving cross-country in hot, sultry, ninety-degree weather with non-functioning air conditioning and an overheating engine. Combined, these can sure transform any experience into a page turner. Would the car make it through the steep winding mountain curves or break down in the middle of some mountainside "dead zone"? We did make it through, but not without hours of keeping our eyes glued to the thermostat needle, blasting the heater at 85 degrees when it climbed too high, even if the temps were 94 degrees outside.

I read a book throughout the trip that chronicled the western migration in the 1840's-60's through the diaries, letters and journals of women who made the crossing. That provided an interesting counterpoint to my twenty-first century travels, even in a malfunctioning car. Imagine muddy, rutted tracks on old Indian trails instead of paved roads and traveling only 12 -2o miles a day in a covered wagon rather than the hundreds of miles even a temperamental automobile can cover. Illness, accidents and deaths were daily occurrences for these thousands of migrating families in search of better lives. In contrast, an overheating radiator seemed tame.

Of course the expanses of space in the west are breathtaking and my camera shutter clicked continuously, each new vista offering inspiration.

But along with the stimulation, questions and doubts about my own body of work began to bubble to the surface, increasing proportionately with the days I spent away from my daily practice of making.

Here are the big questions that these three weeks away have distilled down to. Why do I make art and what does that process mean to me? What responses do I hope it will generate in viewers?

I've realized that I desire my work to have genuine POWER and PRESENCE, but how does an artist imbue that in their work? As I visited galleries, appreciated works in terms of color and composition but seldom felt strong emotional content, I wondered -- am I asking too much from myself and my work as an artist?

How does one create this elusive "presence" in one's work and why is it that I desire this so much? How is it that suddenly I respond so critically to other artists' work even though I recognize that most care as much as I do about excellence?

While the days sped by, my artistic mind, ever active, felt preoccupied. I even wondered as we headed home, HAVE I GOT WHAT IT TAKES TO BE AN ARTIST??...and that thought was both unsettling and somehow soothing. It would be so easy to NOT be an artist, to not work so hard to attain ideals certainly beyond my grasp.

Now that I'm home, I still haven't had much time to look carefully at my own work in process and begin to evaluate where I'm going.

My number one priority is to purchase a new vehicle, THEN I'll feel free to get back in my studio. I've driven numerous models since Saturday and still have a few more brands to test drive today. My goal is to be driving a new one by the end of the day, put a radiator in the old one and sell it. Then, STUDIO TIME!


  1. Welcome home, I have missed you and your art! Don't think about it too much. That is what I am doing and it is a bad habit.

  2. I like your cowgirl purse!

  3. Hi Jeanne,
    You're questions about being an artist really resonated with me this morning. I have the same goal and the same questions about presence and impact. You've set my mind to further pondering today.

  4. Pondering and working are a good combination -- pondering while away from work can lead to that awful self-critic rearing her head. Thanks, Gerrie for reminding me not to overthink -- and to you Tracy, for acknowledging that we all question ourselves and our motives. I'm back to work after this weekend away and look forward to what the next month will bring.