Hell and Back
I’m not sure where to start with this blog entry. I’ve recently been through hell to retrieve one of my most beloveds. I still have no words. There is a lot to untangle and process, and I think that ultimately the only way that I will be able to express it will be through metaphor and story, whether the written word or visual art. I’ll get there when I’m ready.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing my second daughter about what art means to her. This is all entangled in my story. I am blessed with the fact that both of my daughters have inherited Art from me. I don’t mean that in the literal, art-as-a-physical-object sense. I mean it in the sense of art with a capital “A”, something profound and complex. Art as a way of being.
Artist Interview - Kate Lara-Steely
Me: The question that I always start with is, what is your favorite color, and why?
Kate: That's such a hard question. I know my favorite color has changed over the years. For a long time, it used to be blue, because I love water. But I've really liked the color pink since I was in high school because it's just such a vibrant alive color. Especially when I went to college and I started studying Forensic Anthropology, which has a lot to do with death. It's all about decomposition and murder and all this other stuff, and it was just so nice to have pink. I got pink sheets, I decorated my room pink and it was all froofy and this way I could balance that darkness with some very happy colors. Yeah, it was also very feminine, too, which I liked.
Me: Let's talk about art. What do you think art is?
Kate: I think that the best part about art is that you can't define it. Anybody can do any piece of anything, and it can be art, and that's the most amazing thing- you can look at some old machinery that's half broken and think that's art. When people tried to teach me about what art is, they said "Oh, it evokes emotion". But for me, when I make art, and when I enjoy other people's art, it's stepping into their fantasy. Or their dream, even maybe their nightmare. It's seeing beauty in patterns, and in things we don't quite understand. It's just a way of interacting with the world, and that's the most amazing thing. It's a way of existing and creating and being with the world around us. However you do that, that's beautiful, in your own way, even if it's scary. Even if you think it's ugly, actually a lot of people will enjoy it- you'd be surprised.
Me: Why do you think that art is important?
Kate: Well, I was always torn. I was going to be an academic because I love academics, I'm such a nerd, you know. I was really torn between that and doing a lot of artwork because I loved it. Art was a hobby, a way for me to relax and just create. I always had to be drawing in my notebooks, I always carried a sketchbook. It was never like, "I need to sit down and practice art". It’s just what I’ve done ever since I was little, I think it's because that’s how you raised me, because you're an artist, and it was just something that I did. I really got good at art because I couldn't read books. Because I’m dyslexic, I had to listen to them. And I would just draw when I listened to, like, Percy Jackson and like all of these other stories and I would just draw out the stories. To me, art is really connected with stories. That's how I've always interpreted art that people make and that I make myself- I'm trying to tell a story.
Me: How does art apply to us, as a society or culture, today?
Katie: So I decided to go with the academic side of myself. I wanted to get a PhD in Forensic Anthropology, because I thought that would make me feel successful. And recently I had a mental breakdown. Honestly, a big part of it was because I wasn't letting myself create art. I wasn't giving myself time to just play with colors and with stories. There isn’t a lot of emphasis on art in our schools nowadays. We're not fostering art because they think it's just a waste of time. But through my breakdown, I realized that art is critical thinking. Learning to express something is giving a person permission to do it however they want, and make all the mistakes they need to. Those mistakes are how we get better. Art is such a beautiful way (and not just physical art, but also music and all the other different forms of art) that gives us permission to make mistakes, which turn out to be beautiful. That's so different from the way of teaching mathematics or science or English. That's why it's so important that we integrate art into our schools. Just as important, adults and everybody should just enjoy creating art because you're allowing yourself to make mistakes in a such a beautiful way. A phrase that I was obsessed with in high school was “An ugly sort of beautiful”, and, you know, these two things don't make sense together. But in art they do, and you start to fall into that and it starts to almost consume you.
Me: How do you manifest creativity in your life now?
Kate: So when I have to focus a lot on academics in college, I still do things that are artistic even though I don’t have time to sit down with the sketchbook. I go to Home Depot or one of those stores that have all the paint swatches, and I pick out colors. I write sentences or phrases on my paint swatches that I find in books I read for school or for fun, or a song lyric that catches my eye. I’m also a poet, so I might use a phrase from one of my poems. And then I just put it up on the wall, and all of a sudden my desk is surrounded by these colors and phrases, and it just continues to collect. I also like going on walks and picking up weird seedpods or cool things that I find, and just putting them in my space. Suddenly you realize that you’ve created a space of art. I did this with my chemistry notes, too. I have three different chemistry things up on the wall, like periodic tables. I colorfully highlight them in different ways, and, you know, obviously it's very academic. The reason why I was highlighting them was so that they could be art at the same time. When you look at it abstractly, you're like, "Wow, that's really beautiful". But really I was just taking notes. By making your space enjoyable and surrounding yourself with the things you like, you can be artistic. Even if you're not going to be the best illustrator in the world or the best musician.
Me: What advice would you give to aspiring creatives, or people who have been taught that it’s not ok to make mistakes?
Kate: Do art, however you want to do it. There isn't a wrong way to do it. (Of course if you're trying to learn a skill, then people can teach you the right way to do that skill.) All great artists steal, so listen to what people say, draw what other people draw, practice. The whole point of art is that you can do whatever you want. Get a sketchbook and on the front, write “Ugly” in big letters. And then on the back of the sketchbook, write “See Me In All My Miss Takes” When you write ‘mistakes’ separate the words. “Miss Takes”. So you can do more takes if you miss one. And then just allow yourself to draw whatever you want, and allow it to be ugly. Allow yourself that pleasure of making mistakes that you don't have to show anybody. You have to let yourself go into that place of being uncomfortable, and coming to the realization that this is actually a really amazing place. Because when you mess up, that's when you grow. You really have to detach your ego from it, which is the hardest part. So dedicate a sketchbook for all of your terrible artwork.
There you go.
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One Head, Two Brains
I listened to a podcast yesterday that spooked me a little bit because of how closely it related to this interview. The podcast is about the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and the take-away that I got was about the creative, whole-picture part of our mind, versus the analytical, detail oriented side. If you want to nerd out a little bit more, it is 100% worth the listen. Hidden Brain, NPR Podcast hosted by Shankar Vedantam
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Artist, homesteader, teacher and adventurer. Turning over every literal and figurative rock that I can find, living curiously and creatively outside of the conventions of the common world.
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