A long time ago, I took a class with a phenomenal art professor and fiber artist, Margo Mensing. She taught me a lot, though what I learned most deeply wasn't on the syllabus or meant to be taught. And she learned it at the same time, as well.
I was having a long conversation with her about making art. I was having trouble with the most recent assignment and puzzling through what I was going to create. She had been telling me about her recent installation. She made a huge wall-size mural of a picture of a nuclear plant. The entire thing was created from tiny round punches of paper - like when you use a hole puncher in a three-ring binder - to create the picture. It must have been multiple thousands of little tiny punches because the mural was at least 12 feet long and about 8 feet high. She used security envelopes, the kind you get from banks that allow privacy for what is enclosed. Her message was about our society's false perception of security with nuclear energy. For her, creating art was a way to convey that message. I was saying something I can't remember when she got a brightness in her eyes, leaned back and said, to herself as much as to me, "Ah! You create art to figure out who you are."
She was right. My process was not about taking a stand or delivering a message but to take materials I was attracted to - like handmade paper - and start creating. We both learned that I made art to figure myself out, to puzzle through things and come out on the other end, to have time to enjoy the solace of creating and let my mind bubble away while my hands were busy. It was therapy for me. We approached making art utterly differently.
Knowing this about myself freed me artistically. I didn't need to take a stand or illuminate a clever message. I could just create. And I realized I just wanted to make happy, joyful things to look at. Art that made people happy to look at and connected me to them, art that conveyed my inner joy, art that let me have quiet time while making it that let me sift and digest my thoughts, much like a long walk in nature - that was being an artist to me. After that class, I explored many other art forms and started making my rolled paper sculptures. (I owe my thanks to her for these creations because they were based on her idea of using multiples of the same object to make something new.)
My very first art exhibit came down this weekend. It was a huge success, and not because I sold almost half of my show. I made so many connections to people. I know of at least two people who cried when looking at my art. Another person is using one of my images on the program for her mother's memorial this month. Halfway through the show, a customer bought one of my images to give as a wedding present and convinced the person manning the gallery to let her take it before the end of show. I quickly made another new piece to take its place, this person walking a dog. (It actually looks more like an armadillo but I had to make it very quickly to close up the hole in the show and didn't have time to finesse it!)
I feel like this show was such a success, too, because I faced my fears. I wondered if I could make enough art to fill a gallery. I questioned whether people would think a show of pressed flower images was an old lady fartsy thing to make. I wondered if anyone would come to the opening and how I would feel if nothing sold. But it all worked out splendidly on all those fronts. I checked off something on my bucket list - to have my own solo show - and thought I would be content with the accomplishment and move on. But the satisfaction was so enormous that I can't walk away. I have applied for a show for next year in another gallery!