The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Art League of Long Island.
June 2019 was a trying month. There was newness and nerves and gratitude and heartbreak and hope. I began my year long residency at the Art League of Long Island (this blog is a requirement for me to keep my residency) with a ceramics class and a stomach full of nerves. I hate being the new kid. I don't know which is my worst nightmare, being the new kid, or talking in front of an audience (which I will be doing by the end of this summer). In any case, I'm glad that I decided to apply for this residency, albeit at the last minute, because I have met such wonderful people so far.
I walked into my ceramics class anticipating an atmosphere similar to college. That is, highly structured and drenched in competition. I found the reality to be very different. There was structure, but it was much more relaxed and accommodating to people like myself who have no experience in ceramics. All of the other participants have their own unique creative ideas and are allowed to explore them with gentle encouragement and advice. Having teachers who sit back and let me explore the material (clay), and also allow me to think is greatly appreciated. I am grateful for this this socially creative atmosphere. As far as the creative process is concerned, I am enjoying creating utilitarian objects as opposed to emotional fine art objects. I am, however, very interested in the imperfections in things. I find that when things are too polished, they become boring. In the case of ceramics, this means that I might be making an elegantly shaped simple bud vase, but then crushing it a bit (much like an aluminum coke can). It's in the buckling points and deformities that I find the most beauty. I can let go of control to a certain extent and just let clay do what it will under pressure. In a way, this aligns with all the other things that I've been working on. I've gone from working on crumpled paper, to painting crumpled people (my current series in process), to crumpling clay. A natural progression.
The first three ceramic pieces that I've made in the "green" stage before the first firing.
Notice the crumpled off kilter stem vase on the right.
I was reminded very vividly this month about the healing power of creativity and the strength of kindness. I visited a young friend this month who had to be committed to an adolescent psychiatric facility because of suicidal ideations. While on the unit, I saw some incredibly wonderful things. The patients were allowed to bring their musical instruments and play. They were encouraged to do something called "Black Out Poetry" where they take a book, tear out a page, and then highlight the passages or words that stand out to them and black out the rest. It was brilliant. Now, when mentioning the willful destruction of a book, most people think it a facist travesty. Not in this case. These young people NEED to destroy things that are NOT themselves. And out of the ashes (torn paper in this case) they are able to express themselves, using both their conscious and subconscious minds. I saw emotions and thoughts pour out of these young people like a waterfall. I was so impressed when I saw them interact with each other. They very reliably encouraged each other. They were kind and supportive to the others around them. I suspect that they were saying such kind things to others and not themselves; my heart was equally uplifted and broken for them. In them, I saw myself. 22 years ago I was in their position. My unit didn't have as much creative encouragement, though. I guess it wasn't their primary purpose. I found my creativity within the following year and it was necessary and pivotal in my healing process. It’s now part of my identity. They helped put into perspective (again) what the arts really mean to me. It's healing. I hope that the young people I met on the most recent unit stick with it. Louise Bourgeois said, "Art is restoration: the idea is to repair the damages that are inflicted in life, to make something that is fragmented- which is what fear and anxiety do to a person- into something whole." And she was absolutely correct.
While I write this, my family is preparing to come together to care for my 4 year old niece (and her nuclear family) who is facing open heart surgery in the morning. After the surgery and the diminishing pain, she will need bed rest. For several months it will be a very bad idea for her to get overly excited about anything. Enter the power of creativity. We are planning to do A LOT of creative projects with her in the coming months. I am grateful that her parents want to include creativity in her healing because she'll be able to express herself AND it'll keep her mind and hands working in a calm way. She's a jump into the pool without knowing how to swim AND THEN look for an adult kind of kid. "Kamikaze Kid" would be an apt nickname for her. She's going to need a lot of stimulation.
An underlying theme in the previous paragraphs is the power of a support network, making friends and connections. Seeing the strength of a support system, whether it be through family, in crisis, or simply putting a bunch of people in a room with 250 pounds of clay between them has reinforced how important facing fears can be. As I mentioned before, being on display makes me fearful. So, it's something that I must do. I applied for my residency super last minute because I was scared and couldn't stop arguing with myself (maybe I should stop thinking and just do? How do people do that?). I got out there for the second year in a row to do Arts on Terry Street fair and found it to be so much more relaxing than the previous year. I knew several people that I had met there and at other events though the past year, and met even more. It was more than a venue to sell stuff. It's become a meeting point for friends and colleagues. I am grateful for the residency because it's brought me closer to other creatives that I had not met before. My personal community is growing and I am thankful to every individual in it. They have shown me kindness and understanding. I am prone to feelings of isolation, feelings of misalignment with people. I do not feel that when I am around the other artists that I have come to meet in Long Island. My undying gratitude goes towards them.