K  A  R  E  N     K  I  E  F  E  R

e s s a y s

From One Artist to Another

     We would like to conclude with a personal and intimate connection to our readers as artists: from one artist to another. We have just shared in an exploration of entirely new ways of looking at art in our lives that we hope will give you trust and excitement about your potential as an artist, art educator, teacher, parent, and student. We traveled through the floating and elusive philosophical and political implications of creativity; then landed softly on the stable earth of practical applications.  We explored the cognitive and physical developmental stages of human growth from infancy to adult hood and how it plays out in our visual/ creative world. We embraced painful memories of the many ways that creativity is damaged, coming to understand that feelings of failure as an artist are really failures to comprehend the bigger picture of how art is taught with an air of exclusion. We then showed you a different way to approach artistic expression with the heart of the ingenuitive self always at the center. We now want to sit with you, face to face, eye to eye, and remind you that we are all equals in this grand adventure and that you have, all along, posessed  the “talent” that it takes to be an artist. Just like in sculpting a statue out of marble, the figure has always been there in the stone waiting to be released. It is only a matter of taking away all the distractions that a beautiful work of art is created. A master sculptor always has an eye for the beauty that already exists. Imposing an idea on a stone without adjusting to its uniqueness never captures its true spirit. In this same way, when we speak to you we begin with who you are and where you are right now, knowing that who you are and where you are is perfect, and the art you make is a reflection of that perfection.

Art as state of mind, where answers lie inside each individual beyond the simple structure of one right way that is so often imposed. On this journey we have unearthed a long hidden truth that each and every one of us is capable of successfully communicating through visual art in our own unique way. Just as any other language can be taught (verbal, mathematical, etc…), so does art have simple and learnable tools and methods necessary to convey ideas.  But these rules should always serve the vision of artist, rather than the artist feeling controlled by the rules. We tell our students that we are teaching them the rules so that they may someday break them and create their own new rules. This is how language grows. With a meaningful connection to the past, a living reflection of the new present, and an eye on what the future might be.  Just like learning the alphabet is the first step to writing poetry, so are the methods of art achievable by all. We hold true that every one of us is enriched by the experience of creativity and that our culture as a whole is uplifted by each individual’s sense of empowerment through expression. In a sense it is a return to our uncompartmentalized, more primitive, roots where each person adorned their lives with imagery and symbolism and messages not as an artist, but simply as a person. More simply put, where arts were an inherent part of all of our lives.

Material possessions, wealth, technology, even the deeply loved presence of relationships and religion, can lead a person to seek happiness in external sources. As enriching as these elements of our lives can be, without looking inward and experiencing our wholeness and perfection and beauty, the joy of being alive can be easily lost. Art is certainly not the only way to see  into ourselves and our natures. Art serves to heighten all other relationships by creating a language that celebrates each persons uniqueness and opens the heart and mind up to a heightened sensitivity to experiences and observations. In this way, art is a most potent awakening.

Paradox is a place where truths disprove each other. A life full of questions and observations most often leads to moments of paradox that can feel like philosophical vertigo. Whenever questions are asked, answers invariably lead to more questions. This rhythm can often feel like a never ending carnival ride. It can feel fun and exciting, and it can be nauseating and overwhelming. Art is a way to bridge life’s paradoxes in a way that doesn’t seek to provide an answer, just peacefulness and meaning within the lack of answers. Just as art celebrates the contrast of black and white, so does it embrace the delicate variations of gray inbetween. Through composition, color, texture, metaphor, rhythm, we can simply experience ourselves with out judgments of right and or wrong, and without answers. At its core, art is the embodiment of taking action in a world where nothing is certain. It’s a place where answers are always contextual, encouraging us to look for the relativity of truth. We can think of now more powerful tool in this world.

We all need to tell our truths. We all need to trust that it is good to do so. We also need to embrace that truths can change, and that each others truths are equally valuable as they reflect differing experiences of life. Art is a willingness to put ones own truth out into the world to be challenged and strengthened or changed. Art shows us how satisfying and meaningful it is to be surprised by unpredictable outcomes.  It shows us why it is so great to be wrong, something counter intuitive to so many. You may ask why it is great to be wrong.  It is simple really. When you are right, you only get to have that one idea. But if you find out you are wrong about something you were once sure of, you get trade in your old idea for a new idea. That’s two ideas you have gotten to experience so far. If you are wrong again, you get to have three ideas. The more you are wrong, the more you get to have, so the richer you are. In a very meaningful way, art guides us to challenge the way we see the world, and opens us to new ideas, and a richer life experience.

This world we share is getting smaller and smaller as our borders grow and overlap with increased population and accessibility through technology.  If we are to get along, we need to develop tools for understanding and valuing each other. Ultimately, sustainability on this little blue marble called earth will require us all to get to a place where we choose to grow and learn form each other rather than pass judgment. In essence , to learn to cooperate rather than fight. To learn to share with empathy rather than take with justification. In our approach to art we learn that critique, the discussion of work, is a process of coming to understand a point of view and not an exercise in passing judgment. We can think of no more important tool in this political age.

Just as art can bring people to better understandings of each other, so is it vital to understanding our own  inner workings. Art has an uncanny ability to speak directly with our truths and to open otherwise jammed doors. It’s like a crowbar to our deeper selves. Sometimes it’s more like a chew toy to the playful puppy of our subconscious.  Sometimes it’s a two way mirror and we have to figure out what side we are on. Sometimes it’s a warm blanket that helps us recover from a long and bitter cold. Sometimes it’s the bait on a lure that finally catches the big one that keeps getting away. Sometimes it’s a comet  pulled through a black hole to whole other dimension of reality.

We need art as one of many tools to access who we are. This tool becomes more and more potent when connected to other avenues of exploration. Journaling to explore experiences, thoughts, dreams, problems, worries, ideas and inspirations is a vital tool for every artist to make connections. Actively observing the world around us and taking notes by sketching, photography, writing, or recording deepens the memory of the experience. Engaging in life: physically, intellectually, and emotionally, is the greatest fertilizer for creativity. Study politics, learn cooking, swim with whales, listen to people and watch TV. Meaningful art does not come from a void, it must be sought out through the richness of our lives. To capture the feeling of a breeze on the water, one must paddle offshore and experience all of its wonders. To capture the loving expression of a mother to her child, one must feel that love. From one artist to another, go out and live a rich and full life. Feel all of your fears and joys and sadness and angers and embrace that all you experience is apart of a complete and perfect whole.  Share this with each other, knowing that in this life, we ultimately only have this sharing, this love, to carry us through.

Make the choice to walk through life with your senses wide open. After all, shutting out the world does nothing to experience it or improve on it. This meaningful change, the real revolution that we work towards as artists and art educators, starts inside each one of us and is ultimately the only place where we really have any say at all. We know of the peacefulness that this way of living brings, and we wish this joy for you.

This joy does not mean comfort, ease, or even simple satisfaction. It’s a state of mind that acknowledges that the hardest parts of living, when we are stretching and changing and growing and feeling are the fun parts. It’s the antithesis of what our culture most often corrals us into striving for.  Quite often this path feels solitary, as we are surrounded by messages that value leisure and ease and simplicity. TV reinforcing a 30 second attention span, newspapers oversimplifying complex social issues, politicians offering easy and palatable answers in their quest for re-election. What we are promoting here is the opposite. Look for complexity, stay engaged beyond your comfort zone, push forward into thoughts and ideas you fear or find jarring.  And don’t even stop. Don’t ever feel like you are finished. When asked what your best art work is answer, “My next one”!

This way of being alive is about intimacy, it’s about being engaged in the details. It’s about empathy and belonging. It might be the hardest thing you ever experience in your life, but it will also bring you to a way of experiencing being alive that leaves no room for regrets. When you live life in the artist’s way; physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual experiences have deeper meaning and value in the context of your unique and precious and whole and perfect ingenuitive self.

It is our hope that you will close this book with a rejuvenated, optimistic and inspired relationship to your ingenuitive self. Perhaps you are teacher now ready to nurture students on their life long creative journeys. Maybe you are an art student now empowered to evaluate and participate in your educational experience with a broader perspective and trust in your abilities. You might be a parent, looking for ways to guide your children on their educational journeys with a newly lit flame of your own creative fire. Maybe you are a person who did art before and needed to be pulled out of the muck of suffocating distractions. Maybe you are a practicing artist simply excited to find kindred spirits in the world. Maybe you are an expert in another field who now has an appreciation for the vital role art and creativity can play in all our lives. Who ever you are, we thank you for sharing in our life long passion for the studio approach to art education and trust that you too will go out and make the world a better place by celebrating the creative ingenuity present is us all!