Vulnerability

I often wonder if it would be enough to create in a vacuum, devoid of both spectators and competitors. Where manifesting something would be a pure exercise in saying something about the world or yourself to yourself. Where the critics and the eyes of others didn’t exist, where the work wouldn’t be judged on any spectrum of quality, except one of your own making. 
Would we find it as satisfying? As necessary? I’m not sure.
I think what makes art worthwhile is the fact that it must be shown, commented on, observed. Because fundamentally, that’s vulnerability. 
Without the social aspect, there is no vulnerability, and without vulnerability, there is no risk. 
In a way, vulnerability is what gives art its power.
But we attach baggage to art too, baggage that doesn’t help or strengthen it. We want success, we want accolades, we want to be known for our work. We want to be “vulnerable” but not too vulnerable; enough to be called brave, but not enough to open our truth and hearts up to merciless criticism. 
Despite our desire to open up, to be true, we have an equally strong desire to viciously protect our core, to guard that last little shred of ourselves. Then, when the criticism inevitably comes, we can sit back and take it, knowing we didn’t fully expose ourselves. There is still plenty of us left that has not been judged, condemned.
It’s understandable though, isn’t it? This fierce tendency towards self-protection? It’s something we all do, it’s fundamental to human nature. To expose our whole selves to public condemnation runs directly counter to our evolutionary wiring. 
It manifests as the piece that is too derivative (I have been guilty of this); after all, when someone else has been praised in the past, doesn’t that mean it’s safer for you to do something relatively similar? It manifests as the work that never gets done; it is easier to pretend your idea is brilliant in your head, than to create it and see it’s fallen short. It manifests as the false bravado and wordy artist statement; you’ve clearly read your theory and are intelligent, therefore how could the work possibly be considered bad? It goes on an on, to a million different forms of self-protection, but with one common thread: you are afraid of cutting the bullshit, and making work that is fully, completely vulnerable and true to you. Brene Brown’s words are particularly relevant:
“I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure… (And) courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
Who are you? Who are you truly? What sort of art do you wish existed in the world, deep down? If you were to work with courage, with humility, and with utter honesty, what sort of work would you be making? 
What sort of art do you like, but are afraid to admit it because it’s unfashionable? What do you find yourself drawn to, but don’t see as a “legitimate” form of expression? How are you held back by the biases of those around you, and the art world at large? 
And here is the hardest question: How different is the work you're making now from the work you wish you had the courage to create?

Just a thank you

Hey everyone - I have a limited number of readers right now, and I wanted to thank you guys for sticking with me through this phase. I haven't promoted this blog anywhere (yet!) because I'm getting into the groove of it, figuring out my best rhythms for writing, posting, etc, and seeing what sorts of topics resonate. I'm going to tell my broader audience about it once I get into a good routine with this (dunno when that is, probably when I have a couple posts I can feel really good about).
You all are acting as a real-time metric for me to figure out what resonates. Right now, I've noticed that letters to myself (of sorts - posts about the more emotional aspects of art), tend to be resonating more than posts that are more addressed towards students/the pragmatic just-do-xyz.

This is good to know, but it means I'm going to have to open up even more. Eek! I'm going to keep trying to integrate the practical stuff because I do think there's a place for it, but just want you guys to know that I am noticing what you all are drawn to, and I'm taking it into account. Trying to write each morning for this has been a journey! 

Anyway, thanks for reading. Edits and improvements to come as I get better at this. If you have any thoughts about it or comments on how I can improve/books on writing style, feel free to email my at alessandramariaart@gmail.com. I'm no writer, and I'm hoping to get better! 
Cheers,
-Alessandra

Think with a pencil in hand

A student of mine the other day was in a classic rut - one I see in nearly every student I have. They were overwhelmed by ideas, and found themselves unable to translate them into a tangible, visual result. They had all these great theories about what their art should be communicating, but they were stuck on how to get across their ideas. 
This resulted in them staring at their notebook, head full of a million thoughts, without a single sketch to speak for. I think every artist has struggled with this at one point or another.
Most artists prefer to sit and imagine their perfect work over making it. Heck - I do! It’s so much more comfortable than getting down to the gritty work of trying to make the vision a reality. But why? Why is this habit so pervasive in the art world, and so difficult to kick? Why do we tend to opt for day-dreaming over doing? And is it really so bad?
I believe we do this because we subconsciously know that when pen is put to paper, that idea becomes real, fallible, and flawed in comparison to the perfection in our minds. Reality can never hope to be as immaculate as the images in our heads. 
It feels safer to let those perfect ideas stay up there, never existing, absorbing our precious time in daydreams that never lead to anything tangible. The worst part about this trap is that it feels productive. You really think you’re working through problems, making progress on your vision…. But in reality you’re not. Art is not composed of daydreams, art is composed of action, and without action there will never be any art. 
So is this habit really so bad? Yes, and I would go so far as to call it tragic. It is the cancer that causes millions of creative dreams to remain unfulfilled; it’s the reason someone wants to write a book in their 20s, and by the time they reach 60 have nothing to speak for but a general sense of longing. It’s what makes established artists stagnate, unknown artists devoid of meaningful work, and I would even say it’s a cause of depression and anxiety. Or at least, it was for me. 
It’s really that bad.
So what’s the solution? I’ve thought about this a lot, and the only effective thing I’ve found is as simple as it is blunt: Just. Fucking. Start.
There is nothing else, there is no other option. You just have to make the decision to do it, and then you do. 
Force yourself to sit down and make sketches of your idea; draw blobs for the figures, scribble in areas of the background, make a stick drawing of the sculpture, etc.
When you notice that your mind is buzzing with murky concepts, the act of making terrible sketches solidifies it in the world, giving you a touchstone from which to start, to improve, to rehash, to build. 
Once you have that down, look at the sketch and think about the next obstacles to making the piece. Write them down (don’t just think!), then, beneath those, write out potential solutions. Make a timeframe for implementing those solutions, deal with them within the next week. Action, action, action.
In the act of drawing, you actually bring this idea of yours into existence. The important part is that you’re thinking with your pencil. You’re thinking in the same way that’s necessary to actually make your idea. 
Consider this: if you were to die today, all those thoughts in your head would die along with you. They will be gone, never to be shared with the world, never to exist. Only when you turn it into something tangible does it live on. 
Make bad sketches. Start on that grand idea you have had for forever. Start right now.

Inaugural Post - A Meditation on Overcoming Failure

Hello world! Welcome to my blog. I hope to make this a place where you can find inspiration, drive, or a place of understanding where you are not alone in your creative process.
I want to start off with a topic dear to my heart, failure. Something we have all dealt with, something that's crippled me at times, and other times has turned into my ultimate tool for growth.
There are some lessons that, as artists, we have to learn and re-learn repeatedly. I had one instance recently, while working on a piece that turned out to be an utter failure.
Many of us know all too well the disappointment when a piece doesn’t live up to our expectations. We go through the cycle of conceiving it in our minds; inspired, we start creating the finished work. Somehow, the shadowy concept of our newest piece is always immaculate in our minds, devoid of flaws. This time, we are going to make something really great. 
This optimism is often dashed once it’s finished (or halfway finished), and we realize it’s fallen short of our perfect mental image. 
I talk frequently about this part of an artists’ process, because it’s so vital to our practice. It’s a moment of pain and self-doubt, where the mind is presented with three different options for coping and moving forward; of the three, the one we choose has a massive effect on our future work. 
The three potential responses in that moment:
  • The first: you’re despondent, unable to see beyond the piece’s failures, you need to set your work aside for a while in order to build up your self-confidence again. You jump into the next piece only after having hidden (or destroyed) the failed piece, seeing it as a indictment of your skills. Because you can’t stand to face the work, you don’t learn from it. 
    I would argue this is by far the most common reaction.
  • The second: you convince yourself it’s not bad, focus on what you did great, and tell yourself you’re an amazing artist. You fail to learn from the piece and just  jump into the next one, making the same mistake over and over again.
  • The third: you have a more distant perspective on your work, a calculated one in which you measure the piece against your longterm visual goals. You take a minute to brush yourself off from disappointment, then study the piece and see where you fell short. You do follow-up work, determined to learn from your mistakes and apply that learning to your next piece. You improve.
I’m sure you can guess which option I find most effective. But I don’t want to lie to you guys and say I’ve had this process down pat for a while, either. I remember preparing for a show a couple years ago, and I was so upset about this piece, I wanted to call in sick to the opening because I couldn’t handle the thought of standing next to it. Of course, I went in and smiled like I’m supposed to, but on the inside I was burning with shame because of how much I disliked what I had made (by the way, the piece didn’t sell, the gallery dropped me later on, and I cried a lot for a bit). 
The urge to beat yourself up for your failures will never go away. You just learn to cope better, with practice.
——
Why are we so hard on ourselves? 
Fundamentally, I believe the first reaction is most common because most of us struggle with self-compassion. We see the work as an indictment of ourselves; after all, it came purely from us, how could we not? 
Art is difficult because, in the words of the book Art and Fear, it “helps you see the gap between what you intended to do, and what you actually did”. There is something profoundly painful about trying your absolute best, and failing… To the point where people will spend their whole lives only putting half the effort in, just to protect themselves (“I could do it if I wanted to”). And sadly, they never do - just because they are afraid of letting themselves down.
But have you noticed that approaches one and two, different as they are, both are driven by ego?
Even despondency and self-hate are still about you; the third approach is the only one where you take yourself out of it, and focus instead on your creative goal. 
At it’s heart, self-compassion is about “getting yourself out of the way”, it’s about accepting where you are, and not expecting to magically circumvent the process of improvement. It’s about saying “I am enough, where I am”, and turning back to the work to try to see what growth and lessons you can take from it.
It’s important to remember that no one is exempt from the hard work required to make profound art. Even people you perceive as “talented”, I promise you - they have made 10,000 failures before they got where they are now.
To get where we want to go visually, we must be willing to meet ourselves, where we are right now; it’s only through self-compassion and acceptance that we can learn to be honest with ourselves about our work, and what we want from it.