Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The next destination

For the last couple of weeks I have been following along with one of my internet friends, Margaret Cooter, as she prepares for her thesis show at the end of an MA course in book arts.  I have been so impressed by the artistic quality of her work, and by the intellectual rigor with which she is articulating her vision and how the individual pieces fit in with her overall worldview.

I'm also cognizant of a potential obstacle in her very near future: what to do next.

I've been reading "Art and Fear," a classic book on the many, many ways that artists shoot themselves in the foot.  The authors talk at length about people who quit.

"But curiously," they write, "while artists always have a myriad of reasons to quit, they consistently wait for a handful of specific moments to quit.  Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail.  And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work -- for the place their work belongs."

I find the second of those descriptions most relevant to my current thoughts.  The authors note that artists often hit the wall right after a significant accomplishment: a big solo show, a major commission, writing a book, and more to the point, graduation.  For months if not years, they have been working toward this huge goal, and now that it has been reached -- nothing is left.  The goal has been so all-consuming that it has consumed not just the person's time and energy but her creativity.

I know several people who worked diligently toward a degree, put together an impressive thesis show, and since have done not much.  Instead of a gateway, the degree became a gate, which has apparently taken too much effort to open.  I'm thinking about the same potential situation in my own life, now that I'm on the absolutely last steps toward completing the Quilt National entries that have occupied me all spring and summer.  And I know from reading blogs and emails that a lot of other people, having worked very hard toward QN and Fiberart International, are at the same point.  A few have confessed that during the long mindless hours of quilting they've been having doubts as to whether their work has value and whether they should be doing something else.

So what next?  Of course, once you finish a huge task you allow yourself some relief.  Yesterday, in between working on facings, I indulged in a couple of hours cutting up an old book for found haiku, and vacuumed the studio.  I went to bed early and read a trash novel.

But I'm already planning my next art project.  I'm very fortunate to have a bit of creative energy left over at the end of this long marathon.  I wish the same for all of you who are about to close the door on one chapter of life and open the door to another.


  1. Thank you for your kind words, Kathy - and for raising the "what to do next" issue. It is so often a problem - after a bout of concentrated work, with a specific goal, we face a void. (Perhaps it's only the specific goal that keeps us away from that void?)

    I was able to do the degree after stopping work (another void...) and one of my goals was to firm up my studio practice; another was to find a topic that would give me focus, and interest, for years to come.

    Despite all the work that goes into making pieces for the show, those vaguer outcomes are the more important, and I hope they are ways of continuing working, rather than the endpoint represented by the show.

    There's a sense that sometimes you have to focus on the work to hand, and sometimes you have to broaden out again: read the novel, take time to redecorate a room, spend a week in a remote cabin, whatever ... have "fallow time", a time of recharging-the-batteries.

  2. One thing that stuck me in this post, is the idea that fiber artist struggle with the question of the value of their work. It would seem that this would be a big danger of a juried show. For me, I won't allow a juror's opinion even reflect on my own about my work's value. I have to really make sure that I'm creating for the expression of me - not to live up to a standard of some national judge. That said - of course you want your work to be appreciated - but give me any fiber artist you know and I can find a dozen people who just think their work is amazing.

  3. "whether their work has value and whether they should be doing something else."

    I think this is not just an artist's view, but a human one. Who hasn't stepped away from their desk, sewing machine, loom, easel, computer, office with that thought in their mind?

    I have the Art and Fear book too and thought it was really interesting. Pro'bly time to read it again...

  4. I read that passage in Art and Fear after a long bout of artistic pause. I didn't know what to call it or what had happened. But I nodded seriously as I read this and realized that making stuff can't be all about getting into shows and such. Because, if the goal is to get into xyz show, then what happens after you do that? Ah, got it!

  5. Doubt wags its finger at me often, reminding me of all the things I should be doing, wondering how this, this thing will possibly put money in the bank. It's enough to make me want to amputate! Besides being a writer and a cloth worker, I am a performer, and whenever I'm between creative projects, I either get a cold or acedia. Which is fine - it's all part of the process - as long as it doesn't stay too long.