Wednesday, 3 April 2019

with every step

"If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.“
— Joseph Campbell

Having an exhibition of my artwork feels rather like pinning myself to the gallery wall, with a sign on my chest proclaiming "HERE I AM" all in caps.

I remember the joke about the Jewish mother at the dinner table when someone had refused a second helping, lamenting "You don't love my food, you don't love me!"  

In the gallery or studio it settles somewhere around "You don't love my photographs, you don't consider me an artist."  A good artist, of course. But it's even more precise: even though viewers may tell me that they really like my work, my battered ego whispers hoarsely, "then why haven't they bought anything?" 

Having been a practising artist for more than 40 years, I am well aware that artmaking is usually filled with many varieties of uncertainty.  

In their book Art & Fear, David Bayles & Ted Orland explain that "The difference between acceptance and approval is subtle, but distinct.  Acceptance means having your work counted as the real thing; approval means having people like it."

They continue, noting that "It's not unusual to receive one without the other. Norman Rockwell's work was enormously well-liked during his lifetime, but received little critical respect."

That's why I treasure a comment sent to me recently by email. "I think you’re the real deal, a real artist, Jackie." To be of value to me, it had to be written by a person I respect. It was.  Tra la!

I've just had the phrase that I used earlier in this post enter more clearly into my awareness...."a practising artist."  Because really, that's what it's about. Practising. Practising. Practising. If I were to stop practising, that would mean I've quit.

It's not as if I could lay down my camera for six months and then expect wondrous photographs when again I pick it up. 

A form of practice is looking at the photographs others take- discovering what she/he  saw: how it was captured, the placement in the frame, the light. This is absolutely not about trying to copy their way of shooting or their subject matter. This is about noticing.

A few weeks ago, I sorted through photographs that I had taken 4 years ago.  I was not enamored with the work, though I was impressed that I was still working and playing at it and noticed too that I was finding my own voice. That I was taking steps on my own path.

As they explain in Art & Fear, artists did their early work on cave walls, drawing what they saw and hunted. And later, "The whole population counted as audience when artists' work encompassed everything from icons for the Church to utensils for the home." The distance between life and art was small.

Now it's wide open.

Returning to Havana in about three weeks is keeping my focus centered. It's a valuable anchor and allows me to find and explore another layer,  to travel deeper into the life and beauty I discover there.

"Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself."
    Art & Fear

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