"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."
Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.
First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Loving the Artist You Are
But as I sat with a participant in my workshop last week, I saw that we needed to further peel back the layers of what personal style is, in order to go deeper. I realized that before personal style can be cultivated, expectations about personal style have to be dropped.
Ruth pinned up eleven samples she’d produced in our workshop. We were in Day Five and winding down. What did I think she should do next? she wondered. I studied the vibrant, lively patterns she’d created on the cloth.
“What do you see?” I asked.
She launched into an evaluation of the work, saying that it wasn’t quite right color-wise, that it wasn’t sophisticated enough, that it fell short when she looked at the class samples others had taped to the wall. She liked one of her pieces ok, but really, couldn’t a child have done equally good work?
I pondered this and didn’t answer immediately, so to fill the silence, she continued, dismissing the simple shapes (which I found charming) and the colors, which disappointed her. (Even though these were samples and she’d never done anything like this until four days earlier.)
I interrupted to ask what she meant by sophisticated. Ruth struggled to put words to the term. “You know,” she said. “Smaller, neater, not so loose…” She pointed at the work of a participant a few tables away. “More like that…”
Here’s a trap we get ourselves into: We judge our own work by comparing it to other artists’ work. Or worse, we judge it using a whole pile of terminology we’ve never actually analyzed, so we don’t even know what we mean and we don’t realize we are being critical of what is essentially our innate artist self.
Now I am NOT saying that I should just accept what I make as-is, and drop being driven to improve my stitching, my brushstroke, my ability to match color – or any of the other techniques in the toolbox that allow me to experience mastery of process.
But I am suggesting that before we get to mastery of technique, maybe it’s worth investigating our beliefs where innate personal style is concerned. Because it is what it is. And what it IS is basically good.
It’s our belief about what it is that gets us into trouble.
In my mastery program I have numerous goals for my participants. I want them to get better at using color, so we do hundreds of color exercises. I want them to get better at technique so we do dye studies, discharge and resist studies, and lots of other technique-based studies. I want them to realize the art world is huge and endlessly fascinating, so we study other artists and genres and we allow these to influence what we make ourselves. But my number one goal for my students is that at the end of the program, each of them loves her own work best.
Working as an artist and succeeding is a thinly veiled exercise in building self esteem. It takes ego to stick with it; to enter shows, be rejected, enter again and persevere. It takes ego and stamina to put up with all the dumb remarks people make about work they don’t understand or honor. So ego is required. Ego is public.
Self esteem is more important than ego. Self esteem is private. Self esteem means you feel good about what you do even when you are alone in the studio. You have made friends with your innate style and you are willing to love it as you would love a small child – unconditionally. Acknowledging that maybe there are some refinements to be made, and therefore, educating yourself as you would educate a child. Encouraging the innate YOU the Artist to grow and expand into your full potential.
Think about the words you use when you describe your work. Pick those words apart until you have discarded the dismissive or demeaning words. Because self-talk counts. Respect yourself as the maturing artist you are. Use only kind, encouraging words to describe where you are in your development and what you hope to achieve.
There’s a reason we are blessed with individual style. Humans are complex beings. Balancing all of our complex parts is important. If Ruth is a woman with a detail-oriented job - one that requires exact and specific abilities - is it any surprise that her artist self is loose and big and bursting with energy? Her artist self is balancing the part that has to focus on nickels and dimes to get the day job done. It’s a release and a relief. Her after-hours assignment is to embrace the reality of her Artist Self and work with it instead of against it.
That’s the bottom line. As Katherine Hepburn said, “If you please yourself at least one person is happy.” So do some investigating. If you discover you’ve been critical of your Artist Self, resolve to change.
Balance self-esteem and ego with a healthy effort to refine style and visual voice, and your artist feet will be on solid ground. You’ll love your own work best. And no one can take that away from you.