The Laws of Nature

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Education of the Artist, part 2

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 4: The Education of the Artist, part 2

Before I begin my review of this next section of Orland’s book, I’ll share that my husband and I are joining John Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Keep Fear Alive” on the Mall in Washington D.C. on October 30th. Guess which side we're on?? We have our tee shirts, buttons, and posters ready to go. Will you be there?

Back to Orland’s book: After encouraging us to seek a broad education and also specific areas of learning that enhance our work, he now turns his attention to the types of choices we make. Any choice can turn into a series of unpredicted events – avenues that repeatedly bifurcate to create an unanticipated path of learning.

Here’s an example: I’ve been a professional artist for a long time, but at one point decided to adopt a second discipline. So, I went back to college and earned a graduate degree earth science and taught at a college. Right after I retired from that I decided to take a four-week temp job scoring high school math standardized tests by computer. I decided to do this because it was obvious that college students lacked math skills, so I wanted to know how and what high schoolers were being taught. (BTW – it was appalling!) Anyway, one of the other scorers on my team was a poet who also owned a small publishing company. We got to talking over coffee breaks and he became interested in my art. When our temp jobs ended, he contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in illustrating some of his poems for publication. I agreed. Eventually, other poets saw my work and hired me as well. Before I knew it, I had plenty of work as an illustrator and a nice boost in income!

One decision led to an unexpected outcome that eventually became a sideline in my art career. As Orland writes: The difference is where we search for the possibilities, and in that regard some encounters will always prove more consequential than others. Each of us has a path, a turning point (or many of them), and a story.

Orland asks us:

Where did you learn the things that really matter to you?
Where was that critical fork in the road that directed you to this point?
Who have been your real teachers?

I’m asking you, too.


Carolyn Abrams said...

With regards to my artwork most of what i have learned up to this point has been from books and experimentation and a few classes. It all mattered because each thing i learned led me to the next. My turning point was when i started working with you Kathy. Learning from you has been pivotal in self expression for me. You have been a very "real" teacher/mentor and friend. In addition, each artist who comments on this blog I learn from daily. It has all been a great learning experience.

Linda Roth said...

I was born knowing how to make art, but I never realized my gift was special. I thought everybody could do it.

I had a bunch of pivotal points some good, but most of them sabotaged full concentration. Though art has run through my whole life in various forms, it has never been my whole life till January 5th. 2010.

After breast cancer and all that went with it in 2008 & 9, and with the big 70 breathing down my neck, I have taken it out of the closet. Last January, I started my blog, Drawing-of-the-Day, as a tool to get me into the studio regularly. Having to come up with a drawing everyday, led me back to painting. The blog idea worked and is working. One painting out of 277 drawings and paintings blogged this year has shown me my way.
I titled it appropriately "Out of the Closet."

With me, family came first. Adopted, I came from none, I wanted a family history like everybody else. Now, I want to leave them with a little more of me, my art-- that is the ones that don't sell. I may be over the hill, but so was Grandma Moses.

Robin said...

I am into mid-life still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up! Actually, I have only been serious about my art career for about 5 yrs (as I realized when I attempted to put a CV together this morning) and my turning point was when I read a book by Jeanne Carbonetti and began to understand that rules were meant to be broken, then my art took on a life of it's own and I excelled. Then I got divorced. Now I am reading about menopause (The Wisdom of Menopause by Christine Northrup) and continue to question what I am doing with my art (and my life) and when/if I figure it out I will let you know.

Unknown said...

i dont know who could be my teacher in art, i am very free. i did model for art class with an artist christiane jaillet, she is not on blog, also took a few class with zom, an asntralian artist her blog pinch me if you are dreaming is nice i like to read on your blog

-Don said...

I learned the things that really mattered to me when I saw each of my children being born.

My critical 'forks in the road' came when 1) the factory I worked in shut down, 2) the TV station I worked for in the early 00's chose not to renew my contract, and 3) when the TV station I worked for in the later 00's downsized me. Each one of those events led me further back into my fine art roots.

There has been a long list of "real" teachers in my life. As I look back I realize that I've always had someone around from which I've learned - as a husband, as a parent, as a human AND as an artist. My current teacher/mentor lives near Rockland, Maine during part of the year.

The biggest thing I take away from this classroom today is - be ready when opportunity knocks. Great post, Kathy.


Unknown said...

Hi Carolyn - you're too kind. Thank you!

Hi L.W. - your courage under extraordinary conditions is admirable! Life has thrown you a curve-ball and you've hit a home run. Stay strong!

Hi Robin - I understand both divorce and menopause, so I know where you're coming from. Perhaps the fun is in the journey and not in the arrival. Enjoy!

Hi Lila - it's great that you found people who inspired and influenced you in a good way. Thank you for your comment!

Hi Don - you've encountered some serious transitions and have the imagination and strength to move on and make things better. And, the influence of these events is evident in your remarkable paintings! Wish I could take the credit you give me, but I won't - you're much too generous!

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy hearing about your path Kathy!
The three questions at the end of your post are good ones and they will take more time for me to reflect upon.
I think I learned the things that really mattered to me when I was very young.
I think I ignored the critical fork, so have taken many wrong turns. I'm still navigating.
My husband has been my main teacher in life and I remain open to others in art.

Mary Paquet said...

I was raised the oldest of seven children, with six brothers. I learned what really mattered in my early years -- family, ethics, caring for others.

I've had many critical forks in the road that got me where I am. I got myself hired into a large corporation because we needed the income after our move to California. I took a very low level job confident I could advance and I did. Fortunately, my income and bennies helped raise our family. They also make it possible for me to do my art today.

The next big turning point was my husband's cancer, diagnosed when he was 40. He died of it 16 years later after many recurrences. I learned that health and love were very important. I learned I was strong. This also led to my taking up art. The kids grew up and left and Gary response was to immerse himself in work ("His words, I don't know how to fight this cancer, but I know how to get up and go to work.") Left alone evenings while he sold real estate, I took up art. Ultimately, he too learned what was important in life and scaled back, but he was my biggest art fan and I continued with my art.

I met Bob and he, too, has totally supported my art, sacrificing many hours to cut mats, hang shows, and attend receptions.

I have had many wonderful art teachers, including my first at a community center. Ultimately, though, once I had some skill with my media, I knew I had to develop my own voice. I'm still working on that.

M said...

I love learning and I've always been open to every opportunity to build understanding- reading, listening, watching videos, museum visits, travel etc. I've always tried to recognize what is happening in my life and how these experiences might lead to other things. I am very lucky and good thinks continue to happen to me. It's often a case of meeting someone or being in the right place at the right time.

Connecting with other artists has immersed me in all types of learning opportunities. Serving on the Board of Directors of two visual arts organizations has taught me what it means to be a professional artist as well as the ways artists can advocate for themselves.
There is no doubt that the most pivotal point for me as an artist was my retirement from teaching and administration. A nice pension allowed me to dive into art. I had time to pursue all the ways I learn best. A supportive husband doesn't go astray either.

layers said...

I have been away from the blog world for quite awhile- I taught a workshop a couple of weeks ago and it always takes me awhile to recover and recoup back into my studio- I envy you to get to go to Jon Stewart's rally.. and I like this book you are showcasing- I am adding it to my wish list. In my workshops I do try to help the artists figure out their own personal journal and discoveries and not the instructor or others.

Dan Kent said...

I love your story. Love it. I have learned later in life that simply doing something new leads to opportunities. My rebirth in art: First I read Orland & Bayles book "Art & Fear" and realized why I left my art behind for 25 years. Then I came across a quote that said so much to me: "You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight." - Jim Roan
So I realized all it would take would be a small step. I found a few art blogs on the web. When I sent a fan-e-mail to an art blogger, she wrote back asking "Do you have a blog?" Then I knew the small step to take. Since then the quality of my life has been greatly enhanced. I dove into art through the vehicle of blogging. That was more than a year ago. Hmmm..time for another step off the path I think.

Unknown said...

Hi Pam - it's wonderful that Jeff is such a great partner in life for you, especially now that you're on this journey as a budding artist!

Hi Mary - you've been on an incredible journey! Thank you for sharing it with us. I'm happy to know that your artmaking survived each transition, and thriving.

Hi Margaret - you are fortunate, indeed! Thank you for sharing your path.

Hi Donna - you're giving your students a great gift in letting discover themselves and forge their own path! Thanks for sharing.

Hi Dan - great quote! Thanks for sharing it. It's great to follow your blog and your path as you create it. Keep going ...

hw (hallie) farber said...

I'm late. My fork came in my forties. Until that time art was a necessity but not a priority. I realized I was going to be one ticked-off old lady if I didn't make art No. 1. I have to make that choice each day; otherwise, stuff creeps in.

I had two teachers who were sculptors; they also taught me about life--Ella Tulin and Karen Montgomery. They were the first women I knew who were free to be all they could be.

I'm still sifting and learning what really matters.

Unknown said...

Hi Hallie - I can relate! It's great that you found such wonderful mentors - so important. Thanks for sharing your story.

Mark Sheeky said...

It's interesting reading about everyone's course. I suppose my most dramatic turning point in art was when an artist, Cath Laird, came to the house to see my mother on completely different business. She mentioned that she was shortlisted for an art competition, and I had been too. Only about 200 artists in Britain had made it that far. It also turned out she ran a weekly art group about 20 mins walk from me, which I later joined. It was an amazing coincidence that changed my life in ways I couldn't have imagined.

A lot of inspiration in this thread. It's comforting to know that our art-ship is full of like minds.

Unknown said...

Hi Mark - serendipity!! Thank you for sharing your wonderful story.