The Laws of Nature

Friday, March 26, 2010

Desire, Learning, and Kindred Spirits

Edna by Robert Henri

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

If you want to know how to do a thing you must first have a complete desire to do that thing. Then go to kindred spirits - others who have wanted to do that thing - and study their ways and means, learn from their successes and failures and add your quota. (p. 55)

When it comes to learning, not much has changed over time. A student must first have the desire to learn before true learning can occur. As artists, we never stop being students, which means that our desire to learn must be sustained for a lifetime if we are to succeed. That takes real commitment and energy!

For me, the more I learn the more I want to learn. Desire begets learning which begets greater desire to learn, and so on. It's the snowball effect, and the only limitations to the size of the snowball are my desire to keep pushing it in order to gather more snow and my energy. These are considerable limitations to be sure, but a with some patience and refreshing now and then, they can be overcome.

As Henri indicates, the desire to learn must be coupled with action. We have to do something about it. I like the idea of turning to "kindred spirits" for guidance, and always have. This blog has brought together such a group, and it is rewarding. Guidance also takes the form of real-life instructors in a physical classroom. I've had many years of that, but rarely engage in it these days. Part of the reason is because the way I learn changes with time which means that the type of kindred spirits I seek must change as well to suit my present situation.

What are the characteristics of my kindred spirit? Someone who clearly understands and is emotionally dedicated to making art. Someone with a strong desire to learn. Someone who challenges me to overcome complacency and learn more, who understands that there's more than one way to solve a problem. Someone whose goals and aspirations are similar to my own. Someone with whom I am philosophically aligned. Someone who will allow me to do the same for them. I suppose there's more that I could add to this list, but you get the idea. Entering into a relationship with a kindred spirit means mutual responsibility for it on an equal basis. That's why these types of relationships are so rare and so valuable. If not for the kindred spirits in my life, my ability to produce art would be lacking even more.

What are the characteristics of your kindred spirit?


Casey Klahn said...

Lately I've been thinking about those I look up to. They aren't my kin, in the lowly state that I occupy. But, it has been said that in order to admire someone, you have to have some element in yourself that sparks your fire of interest in them.

Anyway, I have been admiring and wondering about the geniuses in the world (contemporaneous and in history). " their ways and means, learn from their successes and failures, " wrote Henri.

Hope I'm not too far off topic. Anyway, the genius of artists seems to be one of the hardest things to pin down. I think your words about action are timely. The studio is probably the best arena for action, eh?

Kathy said...

Hi Casey - I'm fascinated with your scholarship on genius. Do share your thoughts with us! I like your ideas about admiring someone who has similar characteristics. So true. Now, back to the studio (action!)

Mark Sheeky said...

My kin is the same as yours, I suppose. I like to read biographies on Wikipedia and it seems that they're all interesting and inspiring. Perhaps then everyone can be kin? I try to associate with the best people, the great artists of the past, musicians, writers, philosophers. All dead people of course! If your associates are the cleverest and most insightful people then you'll find that some of their gold rubs off on you.

hwfarber said...

I don't think that our desire to learn diminishes as we grow older. If anything, there is a realization that "It's now or never." I sometimes envy those who can just sit and rock.

I learn from books and from bloggers I follow. I admit that I get more than I give. One close friend from childhood is a kindred spirit. She's a musician--always practicing and taking more lessons--while I'm always reading or drawing or painting. We often ask each other what the heck we're doing, and she understands why I skip social events and hang out in my workshop.

Thank you, Kathy, for sharing what you know.

Stan Kurth said...

I don't think my list is too much different than yours. I see, I like, I study, I follow, I learn from them. It is an artist's ongoing maturation process.

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Kathy said...

Hi Mark - I agree that the company we keep is very important. I like to look for the golden nuggets in everyone :-)

Hi Hallie- my desire to learn has greatly increased over time even if I don't take classes any more. At some point, we can self-teach and our own exploration becomes much more meaningful and important. My philosophy is that everything informs - I just have to see it. Thank you, too, for sharing what you know!

Hi Stan - yes indeed!

Hi Pam - we all learn differently and it's great that you're sorting out the best method for yourself. Your desire to learn is terrific and the fact that you're true to yourself is vitally important.

-Don said...

I'm working on my quota...

...while enjoying my kindred spirits here in the blogosphere.


Kathy said...

Hi Don - yay! keep going.

Shawna said...

17 years ago I help start a quilting group that meets weekly. They use to be my "kindred spirits". But time has changed and the group has altered. They are still my very good friends but no longer do we have the same creative connection.

So in December I invited 9 women (5 came) to my house to watch a video called "Who does she think she is?". I know all these women from other parts of my life and I understand group dynamics so I was very careful who I invited.

Before we watched the video we had our potluck supper and I put out my hopes for the discussion that happened afterwards.

As a result we now have started an art group that meets monthly in each others homes. We are all at the top of our field in our little city but no one is doing the same medium. We have a documentary film maker, a quilter, a ceramicist, a print/digital image maker, a painter, and a young woman who is just heading out to art school. She does a lot of drawing at this point.

Variation in age is highly important to the health of a group. So we go from 48 to 18.

The evenings we get together are so inspirational. They feed us in wonderful ways.

We plan to go through one of the books you read and blogged about.

I remember years ago reading a section of Women who run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes where she talked about creating our own communities and how important it is.

Shawna from Yellowknife

Kathy said...

Hi Shawna - the group you formed sounds wonderful! Which of the books will you be reading and discussing? I agree that forming our own communities is important. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

Dean Grey said...


Good post!

I think that's part of my problem right now. I'm depressed and the depression is killing the desire, which in turn kills any productivity.

What the answer is to that, I'm not sure yet.

Have you ever discussed depression and the artist on your blog before? If so, let me know!


Kathy said...

Hi Dean - I haven't ever discussed depression as a solo topic, but I have discussed fear and doubt. Confidence is easily shaken in most artists, and the reasons for depression are myriad, so this might be a valuable conversation for us to have. Thank you for suggesting it. I do hope you're able to move on and engage in creating art very, very soon! Here, you're among friends and am certain all of us will cheer you on :-)

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Shawna said...

We are starting with the Ian Robert's book. So far each meeting has been learning about each others mediums. It has been quite informative and we talk about art! Yahoo!!!!

Shawna from Yellowknife

Kathy said...

Hi Shawna - that was a good book, and we had some great discussions about it here. Have fun!