Monday, August 20, 2007

New Song in a Strange Land

This is suppose to be my post on "backgrounds" made during my fourth and final week of doing nothing but make "complex cloth" intended for a new body of work. It isn't that post.

I can't post the backgrounds because I only made one. I have been working very, very hard....but not on backgrounds. I have learned several important things about myself and about the way in which I work. I have had to face a few facts, too.

I started making art about seven years ago. I don't have a background in art, and this is a fact that still haunts me. Like many, I've always suffered from an incredible lack of self esteem. I've always worked harder than most people I know in order to compensate for what I lack in every other area. I rarely feel like I'm good enough. My "artist's statement" centers on this concept.

I've also been blogging for over a year, reading other's blogs, admiring all sorts of interesting work, and often feeling rather stupid. I worry about asking idiotic questions; for example, I didn't know what an "embellisher" was...everyone else seemed to know...I didn't ask...if I had, I would have owned this wonderful machine long ago. I was afraid of sounding "dumb". It's silly, I know. My fears of inadequacy are very powerful driving forces...I always get a lot done, but I never think it is enough.

Also, I always look at other ideas as being "better" than my own. Hence, when an artist I greatly admire suggested working in complimentary colors, I immediately set up this task. It was interesting, but I also assumed that her way of looking at and making art was infinitely better than my own way. This too is silly.

I set about making backgrounds for a month because it seemed like a "good idea", i.e. "someone else's way of working that just had to be better than my own". At first, the plan went along beautifully. Later, however, I found myself wanting to get side tracked, to MAKE something, finish ANYTHING, explore another option. Stubbornly, I kept my eyes on the goal until...last week.

I just can't do it anymore. I'd become utterly frustrated. Finally, I had to admit to myself that I work best with a plan that allows deviation and conforms to intuitive actions. I had to admit that I will never manage nice, evenly spaced machine stitches. I will never have a perfect "zigzagged" edge. I will never get fabric or paper or anything else aligned to one another or anything else. I will not follow directions. I will not even remember that there were directions. I will use straight stitches and French knots 98% of the time. I will never learn the names of more complex stitches...much less how to execute them. I will substitute materials freely. I will estimate everything before I measure anything. I will make on-the-spot decisions at the blink of an eye and never ponder other possibilities. I will use whatever color that catches my fancy. I will jump in before I have a clue what to expect. I will probably do all these things no matter how hard I try to be "correct" or "take my time" or "follow a plan".

What's more, I will probably always doubt myself...but, from now on I'm going to work on the assumption that my personal approach is likely the best one for me.

This isn't to say that I'm giving up on my plan of making "backgrounds". I'm just giving up on the notion that this is all I ought to do for a month. I need more variety...and days in which something "new" gets started and something else gets "finished". Experimentation is great...but working in one's comfort zone is also quite nice.

So, last week I decided to switch gears....even media. I finished one of two altered books using my digital images of genuine West African art and artifacts. It's called (how perfect is this title?) New Song in a Strange Land. There are over eighty spreads. Alex and I are already at work making a video.

The other altered book using much of the same material is Black God. There is no additional text in this volume. Unbelievably, I found 130 postal stamps from Africa to use in it instead...found them on the bookshelf in collections both Steve and I had as kids! I've only got to iron, wax, and photograph the pages. I'll post images later.

In order to tear into something other than a "background", I also worked on two hand stitched projects. One is nearly complete. The other actually uses one of the "backgrounds" I made last last!!! I am going to love USING the I will continue making them...just, no pressure!


Alis said...

Listening to your inner voice is harder but more fulfilling in the long run.

I always say that I come from the "old slapper school of art".
I slap this here and slap that there and see what happens.
Sometimes I pull my hair out in the process but I could never work to a plan or rules. Plans and rules are for breaking aren't they?

Great work on the altered books.
And all your work is always fabulous.

Hugs, Alis

arlee said...

"intuitive actions" YES!!!!!!That says it all, Suze----If we listen to others as The Voice of Authority, some of it may be assimilated, but it comes back to our own selves and visions being the Truth :}
I, and others, could tell you we relate to the feelings of inadequacy and then say "oh but *you* *are* good", but ultimately it comes down to what YOU feel---and obviously from your work and continuing willingness to share and explore, you've won half the battle at least, whether you think it or not :}
Always a fan,

Sandy said...

Forced art is a chore, and it usually shows. Go with your muse. The books are wonderful. We all have our own way of working and should honor that. As for the stitches, I know most of them and taught them but use very few. SAndy

Susan Ramey Cleveland said...

Susan, I love your backgrounds AND your altered book. I think you should always work on what your heart tells you. But I don't always do that. Right now, I'm trying to work in a book from am altered book round robin in which I'm taking part. It's not working out well at all.

Helen Suzanne said...

I love that you've found the "no pressure" secret of playing with your pages. It's actually good for me to hear about your inhibitions Suzan as I recognise much of them in how I used to be until gradually over the last couple of years that I found fibre art. I couldn't do all that neat stuff either, but actually wouldn't want to... I just want to play and see if something amazes me at the end (or not - no problem) and have the sheer joy of total freedom with no rights or wrongs.

One thing my Dad taught me though is "If you don't know - ask" - there's a whole bunch of people out there who are so relieved when you do... cause they didn't know either and didn't dare ask, or on the other-hand wish someone would ask 'cause it seems no one is really interested ;))

I take it you have a wonderfull embellisher now??...Hope you do and enjoy the playing :)

Stitching with Schnauzer and Siamese said...

I totally agree with everything Helen S. has said. Finding your own voice is so rewarding. The teacher in me says.... always ask... I for one am happy to answer..... Go for it Susan.

Best Wishes


Jacquelines blog said...

Hi Susan,
I recognize myself in you're post. I am also a doubter, and always think that other people probably knowing things I don't? I think you have list all the points and there is you're growing progress. You know what you want and what you don't want. That is really important for the way you make you're art. And whatever you do Susan, it always looks great, don't you ever doubt on you're self girl!!! Sometimes when pressure of exhibition etc. is so high, we forget about one thing: Somewhere down this line we started this because we had fun doing it. I know, I am guilty too....

katelnorth said...

Susan, I find your comment about "assuming that your personal approach is the best one for you" very interesting. I see (and feel) this a lot - that other people are doing thing which are more interesting, more artistic, more unusual, more whatever than what I do myself, and worry that i should be working like that. One thing I am trying to come to terms with is that my art will be most successful when I work the way that works best for me. Which is not to say one shouldn't try new things or explore or do something by a different method or anything like that, but ultimately, what works for me won't necessarily be what works for someone else, even if i really love the art they are producing and even if I want to produce something similar or use a similar technique. We are all our own people and have our own type of creativity and it's important to recognise that and not worry if what we do or how we work isn't the same as someone else. It's not an easy thing to do, though, is it!

Your blog always makes me think about these things and often put into words nebulous ideas floating in my brain - this sometimes makes me work harder than i want to when blog browsing early in the morning :) but it's also a really good thing... so thanks!