23 February 2013

The Dark Night of the Soul

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

It’s late February, a month which, in our northern climate, seems to stretch on and on. It’s a time when it’s easy to feel down; there are fewer hours of sunlight and there's less social interaction. It's cold, it's slippery, we have to wear way too much clothing. Although I generally like to keep my outward appearances optimistic, it’s not always easy. Us creative types face some particular problems, and this time of year can certainly make things worse.

Everyone feels down from time to time; it is part of being human and part of what helps us appreciate happiness. But for creators, I think these feelings run deeper.

The Fiercest Calm by Milé Murtanovski
As artists we are product-oriented people. I don’t mean any disrespect to whatever you create, but it is a product. Like me, you probably think you are only as good as your last painting/play/ sculpture/show/composition. When your opening is a success and you are the talk of the town, you feel pretty damn good. When no one shows up, you have no sales, and you wonder what the hell you were thinking creating such a piece of garbage... you feel pretty rotten. What we do as our life’s calling is so deeply entwined with our sense of self that it is hard to separate creative failure from personal failure. It is because we take creative risks, and dare to show the world what is inside of us despite of it all, that makes our work meaningful. Of course this is also what leaves us so vulnerable.

A number of years ago I was struggling with writing an opera libretto. I was upset that I couldn't seem to get things right. I spoke with the director; and he called this period of the creation process “The Dark Night of the Soul.” Since that time, I have always thought of these difficult times as part and parcel of the creative process. Of course most of what I do is enjoyable or else I wouldn't do it, but there will always be times when I don’t know the way forward, I can’t see the light, I didn't get the gig/grant/job, I’m broke and tired and I question why I've chosen this life. I know I’m not alone here.

The view from our porch on a snowy day
My solution for this February has been to Make Stuff. I've made puppets, lanterns, and have sat behind my sewing machine for whole days at a time. Over the last few weeks our dining room was totally overtaken with my myriad projects. After a few weeks I thought this mess rather unseemly, so I wrapped up all my projects and filed them away, I dusted and vacuumed and sat back and admired all this tidiness. I was done.

But lo, there came the storm clouds. There was only one solution, and that was to Make More Stuff. Mess be damned, I’m going to keep on making stuff and making stuff until the snow melts and the grass turns green and the birds start singing. Even then, I'll probably just keep on making stuff, because it's what I do and it makes me feel good.

Good Medicine
It may not be rocket science, but that’s how I'm currently banishing The Dark Night of the Soul.

What do you do?

02 February 2013

Producing Artwork: Taking the First Step at Small Pond Arts

(This is a guest blog post, written by one of our former resident artists, Christine Legault. Make sure you check out her website to see more of her recent work. - Krista)
Coming to Small Pond as a one-month resident last April was a fundamental step in taking myself seriously as an artist. Being 26 years old at the time, I had an undergraduate in architecture, an undergraduate in philosophy, 3 years of travel behind me, and numerous different directions I wanted to take in life. A bit lost, my desire to produce artwork and work creatively was a starting point that I decided to take seriously. Howwith who, and in what capacity; I had no idea. Wanting to be an “artist” is something that, like any profession, shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Christine in studio at Small Pond Arts; evidence of her nature walks 
is taped to the walls behind her. This practice of incorporating natural, found objects into her work would become an ongoing theme.

To be successful as an artist is the same as being successful as a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, an architect, or anything in life. Producing art requires a practiced skill of showing up and working. Except, instead of writing, you are working through ideas and you are producing visuals. An attempt, a draft, a sketch of what’s on your mind; that’s all any artwork can ever be. A lawyer shows up and reads, then writes, an artists shows up, and then draws, paints, sings, or moves.

Eggshells by Christine Legault, 24" x 36"

While showing up every day at Small Pond my practice (of producing artwork) grew.  I made deadlines, I developed a routine, I pushed myself to work, even when I was bored or tired.  Krista and Milé considered me an artist, and so, by consequence, I also considered myself an artist. I produced 10 paintings that were 36 x 36 inches in the 4 weeks that I was there. Squares that fit together in colour. It was mindless, not from a photograph, not complicated, not something that I was particularly attached to, but still something that I worked on. Every day.  I knew that the physical outcome wasn’t at all what mattered. What mattered is that I was forced to try and that I had a goal that I had to achieve. I knew that I was at the beginning of what will be a long process for me, and I somehow had to stop being scared of what I would produce. 

From there, I went out to New Brunswick and I deliberately tried to continue the practice I had started at Small Pond. 

Christine in studio in New Brunswick

I was more familiar now with using studio space in the capacity I wanted, and I knew more what I needed in order to produce a series of artwork.  I needed supplies, immediately, I needed to take breathers (week-long ones), I needed freedom and privacy to try things, I needed a way to get around and be in nature. So, I created that environment for myself, I worked on a farm in the odd weeks of being in the studio, I used materials I was attracted to, I didn’t worry about what this all meant. I just worked.  That’s when - the work started to actually be my own.

Paint by Christine Legault, 48" x 60"

Without taking that first step at Small Pond, I still wouldn’t know how I do/don’t work well in certain creative environments. Worse even, I wouldn’t know how fulfilled I feel when I’m working as an artist.  Being an artist-in-residence is important because it says to the world: “Hey! I value creating art enough to make it my job." All anyone can ever do is try, and that’s exactly what Small Pond is there for.  To help you try, and to encourage you to keep trying. Thanks to Krista and Milé for providing such a great opportunity for emerging artists to have a place to grow.

All it Takes, card by Christine Legault