Consider Everything An Experiment

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I’ve been on somewhat of a hiatus from creative work (or my creative energies have been diverted elsewhere), but have returned to more regular reading, writing, and art-making recently. I’ve found my biggest obstacle so far to be my own expectations to create something refined or perfected or worthwhile, and stumbling upon Sister Corita Kent’s Art Department Rules (found on Brain Pickings), particularly the rule to “consider everything an experiment” has served as a reminder to me to not take myself or my art so seriously. I don’t think much good work can be accomplished until expectations can be set aside (at least during the making) and I can get out of my own way. So I copied this quote onto the first page of my new sketchbook, and I’m letting it serve as my manifesto for any creative work I do right now.

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A friend and I were discussing this recently, and she pointed me to another Brain Picking’s gem, What It Really Takes to Be an Artist: MacArthur Genius Teresita Fernández’s Magnificent Commencement Address.  I’m finding this idea from Fernández’s speech quite useful as I, too, start from nothing:

“You are about to enter the much more difficult phase of unlearning everything you have learned in college, of questioning it, redefining it, challenging it, and reinventing it to call it your own. More than in any other vocation, being an artist means always starting from nothing. Our work as artists is courageous and scary. There is no brief that comes along with it, no problem solving that’s given as a task… An artist’s work is almost entirely inquiry based and self-regulated. It is a fragile process of teaching oneself to work alone, and focusing on how to hone your quirky creative obsessions so that they eventually become so oddly specific that they can only be your own.”

Though I am several years beyond being a student, I left grad school and entered the corporate world, putting most of my artistic endeavors on hold for some time, and so it’s only now that I’m really beginning to unlearn some of the bad habits and artistic prejudices I acquired along the way. Of course, I also gained much that I will keep forever, the greatest being the community of artists I had the pleasure of learning from and with while I was in school–both in Bowling Green and Memphis.

I’m always amazed at how a simple act with the hands (such as sewing the binding for a sketchbook) frees the mind to wander and regains a sense of possibility and creative energy for me. There is no expectation when creating but to make something solid and useful, yet it seems to generate so many ideas.

My new sketchbook is pretty flawed, but it is comfortable in my hands. The thickness is just right, and the paper is not so precious that I can’t use pages just for random notes and scribbles, along with more sustained studies. I imagine it will serve many purposes–a catchall for thoughts, mark making, and visual play.

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I’m excited to begin to fill these pages, and for the many experiments to come.

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