Cinderella artists

Not sure if that conveys the right idea, but I wanted to reflect how we sometimes compartmentalize different aspects of our lives and how we often wait for ‘pumpkin time’ to transform us back to our natural state….. Anyhoo, something popped up on facebook the other day and this is how I responded:

I am always amazed at anyone who can continue to be creative in a world that pays poorly for it as a source of income and which often fails to nurture creative activity and expression as an intrinsic value. Mothers are especially heroic in this regard, from what I’ve seen of the struggles my friends have endured. But just as you don’t stop being a mother when the kids are asleep, you don’t stop being an artist in the down time between opportunity in the studio. If you can’t make it happen every week, that’s okay. If its sometimes months between visits to your creative expression, that’s simply the way it turned out. And if its sometimes years before you can manage to create with energy and enthusiasm, well, what is the sense in being hard on yourself for not creating?

I would say its more a problem that we feel guilty when other things take priority. You should never be ashamed of the effort required to be a good mother, or anything else important in your life. You don’t suddenly stop being an artist because for a time you are focused in some other direction. The myth is that creative work is all done outside our bodies, and that the important part is expressing it outwardly. Sometimes art needs to gestate in that quiet place in our minds. Like a seed hatching, when the time comes for it to sprout into the world, let that be its time to be expressed. There is nothing wrong with the seed itself, even if it never grows up to be a tree. There is a time for collecting seeds, for storing them, for sowing them, for nurturing the sprouts, and for harvesting the crops. Your art happens as much inside yourself as it does in the world outside.

In other words, we don’t need a fairy godmother to turn our pumpkins into chariots. Or maybe that’s exactly what we need ( šŸ™‚ )


Here is some of the follow up conversation that happened in the comments to my post:

Friend: “It is interesting to see the way that time passing without ones hands making ends up affecting the evolution of one’s work. We certainly don’t pick up where we left off. Rusty skills quickly return and the work has moved forward whether or not we were able to produce the things we generated in our minds during our down time. All of the looking and thinking that happens when we cannot be making has value. The challenge I have felt as a mom and I am sure others feel is not only in getting time for studio practices, but in just getting mental space to allow for creative thought. Bit by bit by bit – there is progress if and when we allow it to be important. -thanks Carter.”

Me: “Nicely said Caryn! That mental space is the really important part of being an artist, but like you said, we can’t help but be influenced by whatever we are doing. The art we one day express will only have been possible because of the things we did and saw even while our hands were not busy…… Which reinforces a point I often like to make which is that the real project we are working on as artists is our own self transformation. The stuff we put out in the world is just the side effects of that. šŸ™‚ “

Friend: “So true. I always think that artistic creations have a gestation period. Sometimes sharing these ideas with others too soon can cause a miscarriage, sometimes the idea never gets to term. Sometimes the gestation period is longer than normal and the delivery is difficult and needs assistance from others. Even then it is not always welcomed into the world as one imagined it would be. Interesting when put alongside your stance. I think they go well together actually. While I was bringing up my son I felt that all my creativity was going into being with him. Getting that right just seemed to be the right thing for that moment. Many artists are only free to put a lot of time and effort into their work when they are older. It also gives one time to hopefully ‘say’ something of relevance as one now has some expense of the harsh reality of life. I think there are very few young but really accomplished artist. Most emerge in their latter years.”

Friend: “Well said Cathy! The gestation period is something I uncovered in my own work back when I was in school. It always seemed I evolved more after taking time away from art than from nose to the grindstone pursuit. Its as if I needed the time off to get the proper distance to actually make sense of what I was doing and get the chance to actually learn from it. It seemed that if I was obsessively making, then I was limited by what I was doing. The time off allowed me to put the doing in a different context and to see beyond to the possibilities. The only thing I’d differ on is shortchanging young artists. I think creativity matters whether you are in preschool or facing retirement. I will applaud it in all its manifestations. Its true that there is more material to work with, more understanding of the world and its media the longer you’ve been around and the more you’ve done, but I’m not prepared to make a judgment about who gets to do better art as a result. If you look at musicians you find that their first album is sometimes the best they will ever do. Lots of reasons for that, but it also makes the case that you don’t necessarily do better work later on. Still, I’d like to think that I will keep improving! šŸ™‚ It seems like I am, but then I may not have put out that first album yet either šŸ˜‰ I suppose as long as I am enjoying what I’m doing and as long as I feel it is making a difference it will be alright in my twilight years. I may not have to end on a high note as long as I end with my passion and curiosity intact. That’s how it seems from here, at least…… Thanks for your wisdom and for your generosity in sharing it!”

Friend: “Carter Gillies,contrary, i am amazed at those that cant be creative. those only looking for compensation and negating their creativity. such a frail existence, shallow.”

Me: “That amazes me too, but not in an inspiring sort of way! As I see it, in the one case the odds are stacked against making art externally, and it either defeats us or we transcend against all odds. Its often improbable that we survive the test. On the other hand, the human mind is born to be intrinsically curious and to be creative, and when we fail that we fail ourselves. In this case the odds were firmly stacked on our side and we blew it. We got lazy or were duped into thinking these things were unimportant. We let our imagination atrophy by taking our eyes off the ball. We had it all in our hands but we let it slip through our fingers. You are right, that failure is an amazing disappointment, its just that sometimes despite our best efforts external circumstances can get the better of us, and the defeat is not as much unexpected as predictable……. There was a recent discussion in arts advocacy circles about the impact of low socioeconomic conditions on involvement with the arts, and it just seems that too many factors make life with art improbable for folks in these situations. And that is a real crime, that their creativity can be defeated before they’ve had a real chance to exercise it. Its as if deeper creativity was taken off the table when social mobility was handicapped through poverty and minimal education……”

Perhaps the Cinderella theme was appropriate after all….. Poverty and other degrading factors tend to keep folks in their place, and it sometimes requires an extraordinary feat to find social mobility even possible. If Cinderella is an artist, she is whether wearing glass slippers or not. But if access to art is like an invitation to the ball, Cinderella artists have the odds stacked against them…….

Things to think about, at least!

Peace all!

Make beauty real!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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3 Responses to Cinderella artists

  1. Lee Love says:

    Poverty is a state of mind.

    I was fortunate to find H.D. Thoreau as a child and realize that I was not the only one on the planet not concerned about fame and wealth. Later, I learned about voluntary simplicity and E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful. In college, Eric Fromm’s To Have or To Be. And then, the Buddha and Buddhism.

    I think a large part of the problem is thinking like an artist instead of a craftsman. For the artist, the craft exist at the sacrifice of the persona of the maker. In craft, the maker exists for the sole purpose of the craft. A shift to an attitude of stewardship is essential for the future of our country and the world.

    I just began working on a book, working title “Found in Translation: A Zen Approach to Life & Craft.” I will address such issues in it.

    • Lee, while poverty does indeed manifest in a person’s state of mind, I am surprised that you actually think it IS a state of mind. Horrified, actually.

      As much as you can change the world by changing your attitude, the world is not simply at the mercy of our states of mind. There is hard brutal reality that people have to confront every day, and changing your attitude won’t pay the bills, put food in your belly, overcome physical and mental disability, or really have much impact on a world that CONSPIRES to keep some people down. Getting out of the predicament may require a certain type of mental state, but BEING in that predicament is not itself a state of mind. I’m shocked that any marginally intelligent human being would think it was…..

      And don’t presume to speak for what all artists do and what all craftsmen are engaged in. There are as many ways of doing both art and craft as there are people doing them, and to make bold statements like that is genuinely preposterous. Delusion is also a state of mind, as are presumption and dogma. If you but take an honest look at what some artists are doing you will see that different artists do things differently. And not every craftsman is on board with your “exists for the sole purpose of the craft.” That sounds less a description and more your own personal and very biased definition. Don’t be surprised that whole swaths of craftsmen have other ambitions, and that almost every artist working today would have other ideas. To say that art necessarily sets craft in conflict with persona is about the most nonsensical thing I have heard in some time….. And that is saying a lot.

      Remember: Delusion is a state of mind, but changing one delusion for another doesn’t change the untrue back to true. Things are what they are despite what you think of them. The key is to look closer, not wall ourselves off in delirious states of mind……

  2. Lee Love says:

    I am picture with Master Cheon Han Bong above. He is Korean, born in Japan during the occupation of Korea and singlehandedly resurrected Korean Choson Bunchong tea bowl tradition.

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