Recently, I was in the studio, taking a moment to appreciate a bowl that was the closest thing to perfect I feel I have ever done. It was the perfect balance. Light, but not too light. It had an inviting rim, full and rounded and even. The bowl's belly sloped into a lovely feminine arc that lead to a tiny, but sturdy foot. I don't celebrate my work usually, but this bowl...felt like a new level in my craftsmanship had been reached. I was eager to share it with my peers.
And so I did. And for what happened next, I blame no one. It's just an experience I couldn't shake. Primarily because of the way I "perceived" the comment - which we all know may or may not have anything to do with the intention. My fellow potter peer took the bowl and held it. She smiled and remarked that I had done a nice job. But it was the next part that stuck with me: "you're getting there."
You're getting there. As a pottery instructor and masters graduate of a ceramics program...she was well within her rights to say that. At her level of experience, I know there is much she knows that I am still working to learn. I thought to myself...maybe she's motivating me. Maybe she is encouraging me to continue honing my skills. That's a good thing. That's a great thing. Because you never stop learning.
But the part of me that is hungry for the approval of artists in this community as validation that it is okay to call myself an artist...simply heard: "you've made strides, but you're not one of us just yet." And I was hurt. Well honestly, in the moment, I was shattered. Destroyed. Because this is a community of artists that means so much to me.
With all things work and art and perspective, I tend to consult my Dad. The older I become, the more of him I see in myself. And..the more I learn to admire the wisdom he has to impart. I brought this one to him several mornings later because I was still chewing on those three words.
My father wears many hats artistically. Painter. Graphic artist. Builder. Self trained in nearly all of them. He wore those hats during a time when he had to juggle his artistic inclinations with the reality of raising three children, going to college and working in middle class America. So, he didn't have the luxury I have of immersing myself in this love. Still, he understands the insecurities and challenges of trying to break into an artistic community without the luxury (pedigree) of a professional certification or degree. He knows intimately that there are times when you are shut out for your lack of "bloodline." He also knows there are times when the person putting up the wall against inclusion...is you.
He told me a story. And his story was great and intimate and personal and another reminder of the similarities between us. I won't tell you his story, because it is his, and only he owns the right to share it. But I will tell you the golden nuggets of artistic wisdom he shared with me:
1. Never be an "apologist." Your work is yours. Where you are in the process, how far you have to go and what your aesthetic evolves into - is all necessary. Your work will eternally be evolving. Never apologize for your journey.
2. Create from your soul. No other critique matters more. If you make the art your soul wanted to make....and it gives you joy? Then it is perfect. And someone out there in the world will see it's perfection, too. if the work doesn't grab someone else with the same intensity it did you - it's only the indication of a different soul. Nothing more.