Wednesday, April 24, 2013

You raise me up

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wooden mannequins 4-24-13

“For the rest of his life, Oliver Twist remembers
a single word of blessing spoken to him by another child
because this word stood out so strikingly
from the consistent discouragement around him.”

                                                                                          -- Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

I took my first art class in middle school. It's where I first tasted the sour bitterness of artistic discouragement. We were making still life charcoal drawings of a pile of fruit and a couple of vases on a burlap cloth. I was drawing away, painstakingly penciling the criss-cross textured weave of the burlap, when I felt our teacher, Ms. Anderson, looking over my shoulder.

"You are paying way too much attention to detail, Erin. We don't have time for that."

Crushed. By an artist.

I shut down.

I didn't take another art class until my senior year of college. I couldn't stomach the possibility of another comment like that.

Fortunately I did get my nerve back, and my subsequent art classes, whether in theater, dance, ceramics or drawing, have been much more encouraging experiences. Still, as much as I like to think that I don't need praise and wear an armor of "other people's opinions of my art don't really matter to me," I must admit that sometimes, a genuine "atta-girl" from someone who I admire and respect, feels pretty damn good. Especially if that someone is another artist.

I don't invite comments on my blog, simply because there are just too many haters out there, and life in the arts can be criticism-riddled enough without opening the floodgates to the naysayers who like to pick apart and point out all that they think is wrong with what other people make and do. I don't want to be poisoned by that kind of toxic energy, and I don't want to even tempt the possibility of making art to satisfy some critic's idea of what I should do. If I want to spend time drawing the details of the burlap, I will draw the fucking details of the fucking burlap, thank you very much.

But that doesn't mean I don't like feedback. And it definitely doesn't mean I don't like encouragement.

A little drop of encouragement goes a long, long way. And I guess I don't always realize how hungry I am for encouragement until I get some and taste how satisfying and nourishing and soul-fillingly rich it is. I received that kind of encouragement yesterday when fellow 365-days artist Noah Scalin featured me on his Make Something 365 & Get Unstuck blog.

Noah is all about encouragement. He is a busy artist himself (check out his amazing Skull-A-Day project but he also an extremely generous artist. Noah spends ample time pouring energy and encouragement into other artists. He even wrote a book to help blocked or "stuck" artists to get moving, to get creating, to get living, again. When he asked to feature my project on his blog, it felt like he was hanging my work up on his refrigerator, and I felt so happy and proud to be magnet-ed up there with all of the other artists like me who are going hard after a 365 days goal.

As artists, we can become conditioned to survive on precious little. We make and create and give from ourselves every day, but we don't always get the nutrition we need. I truly believe that the term "starving artist" has less to do with physical, not-enough-food starvation, and everything to do with an artist's failure to thrive due to an encouragement deficiency. We could starve to death waiting for the right kind of specific encouragement to drop on us, or we artists can cultivate our own flourishing, fertile, flavorful encouragement garden and make sure we are feeding one another.

We can lift each other up, like Noah Scalin does.

I love this quote from Kevin Smith, a screenwriter/director/comic book author/actor who wrote a book called Tough Shit: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good:

 “Remember: It costs nothing to encourage an artist, and the potential benefits are staggering. 
A pat on the back to an artist now could one day result in your favorite film, 
or the cartoon you love to get stoned watching, or the song that saves your life. 
Discourage an artist, you get absolutely nothing in return, ever.”

Take that, Ms. Anderson.