The Quest To Find Oneself
Years ago I had the opportunity to visit an ceramic artist friend while she was attending an artist residency outside of Santa Cruz in Davenport, CA. I thought that it was the greatest opportunity for an artist that I had ever seen and I wanted to do it too. That was in 1975. Fast forward to 2017…I finally got my wish and I got accepted to The Sedona Summer Colony, in Sedona, AZ. Now you may be wondering what that has to do with the 5 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Artists. When I arrived at The Colony I met some fabulously talented creatives from a variety of artistic backgrounds and styles.
There were musicians, writers, actors, ceramic artists, clothing artists, visual artists, healers, and even 3D mapping artists, all at various levels of expertise. When we gathered for our meals twice a day or in the evenings with a glass of wine or mornings over coffee, we talked about creating, what inspired us, what blocked us, what gave us pause, what drove our passion, what our passions were, where we saw ourselves in the world around us, what our walls were, what time of day we liked to create, why we couldn’t sleep at night, why we did whatever we did or couldn’t do and what we thought we wanted to do about all of that. Never, I mean NEVER in my life have I been so brutally honest with myself and with another person, talking about all of these things. And I know that I was not alone, because we all shared and spilled our guts that we too felt safe to reveal our inner most fears and passions. We came to realize that all of us during most of our lives had felt like outcasts, weirdos, misunderstood, unicorns, and/or loners, struggling to find where we fit in and finally realizing we didn’t care if we fit in. We laughed together at these realizations and many of us cried together for the same reason. Most of the time we laughed, though. We began calling ourselves “The Tribe”. We never felt so connected, so bonded, so accepted before. It was the most joyous environment, filled with acceptance and a caring understanding of our mutual souls. It was validating and such a relief.
Of course, every person is unique unto themselves. But, if you’ve ever spent any time with anyone who is creative, you, I’m sure have noticed that that person sees and hears things in a way you may never imagined. Maybe you are close friends, maybe you are partners, spouses, siblings. Maybe YOU are the creative reading this because the title intrigued you and you wanna see if the “5 Things” resonate with you too, because you have those certain things that guide you that you never talk about or rarely share with anyone. What I realized for the very first time in my creative life…is that I am not alone with these feelings, ideas, and passions. I have never before had such a unique opportunity to share “My Artist Way” openly and freely with another artist. Does that sound weird to you? Or does that sound familiar? Whether weird or familiar, to me it sounds amazing that I am not alone in silent artistic soul searching. What I found at The Colony were creative loners that for the first time for most of us, we felt like we had found our Tribe, our soul sistas and brothas from anotha fatha and motha. So let me tell you 5 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Artists.
1. We don’t always know where we are going when we set out to create something.
When I got accepted to The Colony, I didn’t know what my focus was going to be for the artwork I would do when I got there. I have been a commissioned artist, creating what other people have requested for over 30 years. What would i paint when I had no requests, no demands, and no parameters? Could I create on my own something that would resonate with me, let alone anyone else? So first I had to decide that I didn’t care about anyone else’s opinions; I was going there for myself…to find Judy Grossman, Artist. Who WAS that? I decided I would go with absolutely no expectations of who, what, or how I would create and that I would not expect or put any demands on myself. I would honestly and truthfully allow myself FREEDOM to Explore. I took so many supplies, it was lucky I could drive there. Talk about over packing! When I got there, I thought I would find that most artists there were coming with a direction and an agenda. Wrong. Most artists wanted to allow themselves the same thing I wanted to allow myself… Freedom to Explore new things. Maybe that meant a new medium or a new style, or a new view. We shared our explorations with each other.
2. Everyone procrastinates, usually from Fear or a Block or Both.
What a relief! I’m not the only one!! LMAO!! OK, so we all do some sort of procrastination with roots in other reasons. But it still was nice to know that there were similar fears. I went to paint and explore and I was determined to work beyond my fears. And let me tell you…THAT WAS REALLY, REALLY HARD!!! I was gonna walk the talk, no matter what. And with all the gorgeous trails and opportunities to see beautiful and wonderful places and things all around me…everyday!… It was really hard to stay on my mission of exploration. I only went on two short hikes. Some people went almost everyday. They went where they felt they needed to. I went deep inside to find out which one I needed to see…the beauty around me on every trail, or the beauty within me on the trail of exploration that was yet to be discovered. Let me tell ya…it was a daily decision most days. One I had to sit with and really look at. Painting won out and the trail within was rough, with many switchbacks. As I write this now, I can still feel the knot in my stomach, because I struggle on this trail every single day. As artists we talked about the fact that we may know our abilities, once we start creating, but it’s the starting that forces us to procrastinate. Will we find what we are looking for? Will it work the way we want it to? Will we feel like we found what we thought we might want when we started? The answer is rarely yes. But the answer will always show us a way to find what we want, if we are willing to search and stay with it. We will either find a new path or go in circles, or end up seeing something we never imagined was there and feeling like we just conquered our own Everest. For me, I think I conquered Mt. Diablo. Everest will take a while longer.
3. Artists search for things that are sometimes right in front of them.
We laughed a lot about this one. Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way, stop analyzing, stop painting, stop composing long enough to realize that what you have is really good and if you keep working on it, you might work right past the point of stopping before you screw it up and kick yourself for it! I painted two paintings during the first week and a half that I was there. I painted them on butcher paper because I wanted it to be telling me that it didn’t matter what i was painting, it was just on butcher paper and it could be thrown away if it didn’t turn out well. And I wouldn’t feel like I was wasting good materials. Man! I whipped out those paintings and the process was freeing! It felt so wonderful. But then I decided to take out a big piece of canvas and paint something on that. I struggle with the layout and the design for three days, getting more uptight as the hours went on. At the end of the third day, after spending a whole day on the computer trying to work out a good design, I finally said to myself…”ENOUGH! WALK AWAY FROM THE DAMN COMPUTER AND GO PAINT!!!”. Yes, I actually said that to myself. And the next morning when I got up, I realized I only needed one thing to guide my painting. I needed a heart to my painting to pull the design together. A heart. I didn’t even hesitate. Something told me to look on Google to find the colors of the Native American Medicine Wheel. Afterall, it was the heart of where I was, the spirit of what was pushing me was my surroundings. I read what the colors meant and I knew this was it. I painted that fist on the canvas and the rest of the painting followed. But the story doesn’t end there, as they say in the Old West. The lesson wasn’t over yet. I had spent so much time working on the design, that i was now in the third and final week there. I knew that I wanted to finish the painting, because the spirit and time would be difficult to recapture once I got home. I painted like a banche!!…occasionally screaming at the damn thing. We all had to leave on Saturday and I had to pack all my stuff and drive a long way on Saturday. So I had to be done by Friday afternoon. It was now Wednesday and I was pushing hard. This piece was just short of 9 feet long and almost 4 feet tall. I painted all day and just stopped for lunch and dinner and by 7:00 PM my back and neck were in knots and it didn’t feel joyful anymore. It felt like work with a deadline and a demanding client. It wasn’t fun and I was not liking how it looked and it didn’t feel like it was coming together and I knew it was because I was pushing myself. Finally I yelled “STOP! GET OUT BEFORE YOU F#*K IT UP!!!”. I threw the brush in the water, turned off the lights and walked out, figuring I’d sleep on it and pray a little and maybe the elves would fix it while I slept. I woke up in the morning, had breakfast relayed my struggles with some of The Tribe and they encouraged me to go look at it and they bet that it wasn’t THAT bad. I reluctantly walked to my studio and low and behold, the elves had worked their magic on it and it looked pretty damn good. I thanked the elves, even if they were fast asleep by now. I still had a lot to do, but I made it happen and it all came together. But not until late on Friday afternoon. But no worries, because all Friday afternoon we were deluged with a huge monsoon storm, which would’ve made it impossible to pack my car anyway. So I just kept painting til it was done, before dinner. PHEW! The packing wasn’t procrastinated…note the photo of the monsoon on Friday afternoon. Two hours later…the rainbow. It was a beautiful evening for strolling First Friday in Downtown Sedona.
4. Artists need each other to vent to and share their inner most stuff. Artists need to stop competing and work together for the betterment of all creativity. I need My Tribe. And they are out there, everywhere!
5. Artists can become depressed when they are searching, feeling, working, being. Fighting depression is a common thing for an artist.
When an artist is searching for the right something and runs into a wall, or when an artist has experienced a tragedy, or when an artist wants to create so badly, but is kept away from creating for any number of reasons, or when an artist feels something so deeply that her soul aches, it becomes excruciatingly difficult to create…anything. This is very depressing. This is when an artist needs to go deep within to work out what is in there. This is when your friend, your spouse, your sibling needs love and understanding. This is the artist way. An artist feels everything very deeply and passionately. An artist feels the pain of the world, sees the grief in everyone’s eyes, and the pain in everyone’s soul. This is the life of an artist. When an artist is happy…we rejoice with the oozing passion. When an artist is depressed, there is no hiding from it. We feel you. We see you. We need you.