Monday, August 29, 2011
You know that saying about good intentions? Here are just a few of the things that pave my own personal road to hell:
hand-blown bell jars
a childhood's worth of beads
a sheep's-worth of New Zealand wool
soap for casting
soap for carving
jet for carving
a hunk of jelly opal for carving
500 mother-of-pearl buttons
10 pounds of blue-and-white porcelain shards
ink, watercolors, acrylics
wood, wood objects, wood shavings, sawdust
All of these things and many more were acquired with the noblest of intentions: I meant to make them into art.
But I haven't. Instead, I've made them into a hoard. A hoard that overspills my drawers and shelves, takes up a valuable chunk of my parents' garage, and breaks my back every time I move. It's a pain, but even more than that, it's hurtful.
A year or so ago I read about a study of different types of stress and their effects on your health. Before that I would have assumed that the fight-or-flight adrenaline rush that always makes me feel like puking would rank as the least healthy kind of stress, but it turned out to be something more insidious. The study determined that the greatest emotional and physical damage is caused by the stress of things left undone.
I began to realize that my stockpile of supplies is, by definition, a teetering stack of things left undone. And talk about stress! If you tend to run yourself down for being uncreative or unproductive, a heap of crumbling Sculpey, yellowing sketchbooks, and crusted-over paint sets is just the kind of corroborating evidence you don't need. For every time that some ancient acquisition enabled me to act on a bright idea, there must be at least fifty times that the sight of a stack of unused, thwarted, and reproachful art supplies has caused me to turn off my desk lamp and leave the room.
Something desperately needed to be done, so I've embarked on a kind of self-intervention. I am challenging myself to get by on the supplies I have for as long as possible. There are no arbitrary dates, no insane impositions; I'll buy stuff if I absolutely need to for a class or a client, and I'll get rid of things that I decide are unusable or simply not for me.
In the short term, I hope to clear up some shelf space. In the longer term, I hope that this challenge will stretch my creative practice in new directions. By making do with with I have on hand, I expect to make and do things that I might not otherwise have thought of or gotten around to. Many years ago I went to a show of drawings by Gabriele Ellertson, one of my beloved college art teachers, where one standout series came out of an ill-starred residency. Somehow Gabriele's materials were lost along the way and she had only a limited and uncharacteristic palette to work with: two bottles of ink, one black, one virulent yellow. Did she throw in the towel? Nope. She made a series of hilarious and lovely ink drawings of anthropomorphic slugs.
And ultimately, I hope that this experiment can help me to address the fears and distorted perceptions that are probably at the root of my Depression-era tendency to hoard art supplies against the coming of a long, cold, creative winter. Perhaps I will learn to recognize when enough is enough--or to trust that even when it isn't, the world doesn't necessarily end.
I am trying think of on my self-imposed restrictions as a barrier placed between a plant and a window. Please check back soon to see what new directions I try while puzzling my way towards the sun.