The Laws of Nature

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Finding Poetry in the Everyday

The fifteenth, and next to last, principle in Ian Robert's book Creative Authenticity is entitled "Finding poetry in the everyday." This is about finding our own "voice" as an artist, or addressing the issue of our personal poetry. Roberts extends this thought to define art in terms of a poetic expression. The work of our good friend Mark Sheeky ( is a good example of an artist who is both a poet and painter (and musician, I might add). However, Roberts isn't referring to written poetry. By poetry, he means the vision of the artist.

During the past few months I've frequently posted this idea in many forms, so I won't beat a dead horse today. However, I will include these words from the text: The essence of this whole artistic enterprise is to focus your attention on what caught your attention in the first place. Respond to what is yours. Your truth... You must strip the thing back to the basics of what you feel about your response ... Get to the foundation and then build it back up.

As you know, I agree with this viewpoint and try to discourage derivative work that is copied or appropriated from another. There's only one way to be unique and meaningful in art, and that's to express your own ideas and feelings. But, getting in touch with oneself means investing in spending time with one's own thoughts. I do this by asking myself very basic questions that almost always start with the word "why." Why do I like that? Why do I keep staring at that? Why does that make me feel happy, sad, angry? Why can't I stop thinking about that? and so on. Be your own Grand Inquisitor. Get to the heart of who you are - that's where you'll find your inner voice.

Over a decade ago, when I decided to learn watercolor painting after formal training as an oil painter, I attended a week-long workshop. It was expensive! The first three days of the workshop I couldn't get my instructor to pay much attention to my work or even give it a substantive critique. He spent lots of time with the other students but kept glancing at my work and passing by. On the fourth day I became a little angry because I needed input and because I felt like I'd just wasted my time and money. So, I politely asked the instructor why he wasn't commenting on my work. His response was "I don't need to. You already know how to paint, you just haven't found your voice and I can't do that for you." Well - a lightbulb went off in my head! All those college art courses and no one had ever mentioned this to me.

So, I went home and began thinking "how" do I find my voice? How does anyone do that? After a few years of fits and starts it dawned on me that my work was imitative because I lacked confidence in my own ideas and feelings. Once I realized that, I quickly got over it. Of course, it's an endless journey because my thoughts and feelings change with age and experience. So, the questions and answers to who I am never cease. But, doesn't that make things interesting??

Your thoughts?


-Don said...

I guess I'll forever be that little kid that's always asking his parents, "But, why?". I've just internalized it now so the person I'm driving crazy with that question is me.

It sounds like that instructor was pretty wise for a horse's ass.


Anonymous said...
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Unknown said...

Hi Don - yes, I annoy even myself as well!! And, I agree that my instructor was wise. Thanks for commenting!

Hi Pam - you'll find your voice if you want to, so don't worry - just persist. Thanks for the nice comment about my illustration. It was a commissioned by a poet for one of his poems that was published last year. I love illustrating poetry and have done many for two poets so far.

Mark Sheeky said...

Rejoice Pam your voice is all over your cartoons. Did you copy them? No! You've always had a voice.

Another inspirational post Kathy!

M said...

Yes, I get this idea and believe in it. Yes, I think over the last two years in particular I am finding my voice by choosing to paint what speaks to me the most. Questioning is something I probably do too much if that is possible. I sometimes think my questioning is a form of procrastination.

Kathy, I love the delicacy of this illustration.

hw (hallie) farber said...

I think my loudest inner voice always asks, "Why not?"

I suspected you found your authentic self when you illustrated the poetry books. Beautiful work--love the tangled roots.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, I enjoy reading the posts AND the comments! We're each revealing our voice in our comments, I suppose. Though, I always feel like my voice is just around the corner.

You touched on a question I've had...that about derivative work. At a certain level, are we all not doing derivative work of some kind? I'm not meaning to be sarcastic or coy, I'm curious. If you work in a realistic mode, are you not working in a derivative of some past approach, ie. classical, baroque, Renaissance?

For example, I tiptoe around Cubism, and sometimes it appears in my work. But, I've been concerned about derivative work. Cubism is so strongly associated with Picasso, Gris, Braque and the artists of their time that it's hard to avoid the appearance of imitating. On the other hand, some of the Cubist ideas open up wonderful avenues of expression and exploration.

So, I'm interested in your thoughts and experiences.

Unknown said...

Hi Mark - good point! He's correct, Pam :)

Hi Margaret - thanks so much :)

Hi Hallie - oddly enough, I found my voice long before that and couldn't use my voice to illustrate the poems because I had to adhere to someone else's concept. However, it was fun!

Hi Peggy - I was expecting someone to make this point, and I'm glad that you did. Yes, everything is derivative to a certain degree. Certainly, styles and techniques are often derivative. But, I think that we humans, with all of our commonalities, still have qualities that make each individual unique. It is those qualities that the artist needs to rely upon to create unique art. Thanks for asking this question!

Carolyn Abrams said...

I think finding your voice goes hand in hand with creating meaningful art. Whether it is one piece or a whole series if it is a reflection of the artist's true self it will come out in the work. Even though this art work was inspired by a poem created by another I think your true self is shining through. Exquisite Kathy!

hw (hallie) farber said...

I should have said you used (not found) your authentic self in the illustration.

Unknown said...

Hi Carolyn and Hallie - you're both correct! There is a bit of me in this. There has to be. Thank you both :)

layers said...

Yes, it is an endless journey-- searching for self and finding what is unique and different from others- I am teaching a workshop next week in Florida and I know I will be saying this over and over.

Unknown said...

Hi Donna - Thanks so much for your comments and your students are lucky to have your good advice! I'm envious that you'll be in Florida ... I'm freezing in NY :)