Building a Relationship with Art

 

View from the ICA Boston
View from the ICA Boston

In the movie Almost Famous, Penny Lane has a great line about finding solace in art: “if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” Whether it’s music, visual art, movies, or books, art experiences have the potential to connect with us on a visceral level. It can transport us. It can help us practice compassion for ourselves and others. This is true of seeing art for the first time, but I find it to be much stronger when I see art I know well.

So what is this ‘familiar art’? For me, it’s a museum that I know so well that it feels like a friend’s living room. It’s an artist’s work that creates a special – and at the same time ordinary – space whether I’m seeing it in Boston or Paris or on a library floor in an art book. It’s taking the shortest route through a gallery, ignoring a bunch of other wonderful paintings, to see that one piece I always visit.

Dropping into the familiar can be a meditative experience. There are constants and differences with each new interaction. Sometimes the art is the same and I bring a new perspective; other times a new exhibition is unpredictably distinct in a place I thought I knew. For me, it’s similar to stepping onto the yoga mat.

How do you start this ‘relationship with art’ if you don’t yet have one? By showing up, observing what resonates with you, and returning to it again and again. Where do you go? See if your neighborhood has a gallery. Maybe the library has a rotating exhibit. If you live in a city or travel to one, there are endless kinds of museums to explore. In Boston, there’s public art throughout the city.

Art should be free and more easily accessible, but you can still find free art. I am fortunate to have free access to a few museums through my job. Check your library or community center to see if you can find free passes. There are also free days at museums. In Boston:

  • ICA: Thursdays 5-9pm
  • MFA: Wednesdays 4-10pm
  • Harvard Museum of Natural History: Sundays 9am-noon (for MA residents)

Different experiences fill people’s souls in various ways. For me, art is a good place to start. What is it for you?

Interdisciplinary Learning: What pottery taught me about commitment and my creative process

 

Bisque fired bowls

Interdisciplinary study in any subject has the potential to provide new perspectives, inform processes, and adjust priorities.

I love art, but as a mixed media painter who is also a full-time higher education administrator, I sometimes struggle to prioritize creativity; painting doesn’t pay the bills, it requires time to set-up, space where I can be messy, and dedication to consistently return to the work.

When I began my first pottery class in January 2015, I learned that throwing on the wheel was more technical than I anticipated and the clay much more temperamental. In my first four classes, I made two very small and very heavy bowls. I also decided to never try pottery again; it was too hard and not very enjoyable.

A full year later, in February 2016, I signed up for a semester-long class in the same studio with a different teacher. I attended my weekly 2 ½-hour class, learned new techniques, and scheduled independent studio time outside class. Sometimes I would eat lunch at my desk, run over to the studio, and spend a quick 30 minutes of lunch trimming a pot or glazing a cup. In other words, I put in the hours. The consistency and dedication began to pay off. Five months into the process, I’m consistently surprising myself.

Floating Blue Bowls

For those who are unfamiliar with the process of creating a wheel-thrown piece, here are the basics. In my studio where the kiln runs every few days, the above process can take 3-6 weeks:

  • Throw something on the wheel
  • Allow to dry for a few days
  • Trim
  • Bisque fire in kiln
  • Glaze
  • Final fire in kiln

So what does pottery teach me about painting? Pottery reminds me that it takes time to become even slightly skilled at a new activity. On the surface this is an obvious lesson, but think back to the last time you tried something completely new: learning a new language, trying a new physical activity, or making a new friend. It’s easy to rely on activities in our comfort zones. For me, 2D art is comfortable; 3D art is in stretch territory. By embracing that I knew nothing about pottery, I allowed myself to fail, put in the hours to get better, and celebrate small wins. Imagine the possibilities if we apply these principles and techniques with something that’s already comfortable? If I embraced failure, commitment, and recognizing success at work, for example, I would be a much more effective leader and team member.

Furthermore, throwing on the wheel reminds me how crucial space and time are to my creative process:

  • Space = the physical place where I create and the mental space to focus on it
  • Time = consistent times in my schedule devoted solely to art

I paint with acrylics, often using a watercolor-like application, and incorporate materials such as graphite, paper, or thread. As the paint requires time to dry between layers (just as the stages of clay work require time) I paint three or four pieces simultaneously. By committing to this process, I am eager to see what I create and how my painting experience may change.

Preparing for Failure on the Path to Success

life path
(Liz Looker)

Success, however we define it for ourselves, can appear out of reach when we only see the “end product” or major achievements of others’ journeys. Most people (especially fantastically famous ones) fail somewhat regularly. EVERYONE fails. It took me over 25 years to realize that if I’m not occasionally failing, I’m living with so much safety and hesitancy that I’m destined for mediocrity. Some people are content with maintaining the status quo, but I’d rather do something big. So I’m learning to embrace failure, and I’ll share a story that involuntarily launched me into this mindset:

In Fall 2014 I applied to seven competitive sociology PhD programs. Whenever someone asked me what I was up to, from catching up with old friends to meeting completely new people, I shared that I applied to grad school and would be starting next fall. At least I was confident!

Up to that point, I was a high-honors student in a large New York State public high school, graduated with a research-focused liberal arts degree in Western Massachusetts, served in AmeriCorps for a year, worked in nonprofit development and marketing, and was two years into managing curriculum and course materials at the MIT Sloan School of Management. While I was working I completed four graduate-level courses through Wheelock and Harvard; just because I love the classroom and learning new skills. Life wasn’t without challenges, but when it came to academics and intellectual curiosity, I was positive a PhD in sociology was my next step.

I’m sure you can see where this is going: I didn’t get in. Not a single school wanted me that year. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might not get in. When the seventh rejection email arrived, even after the first six, I wasn’t prepared.

It took me a while to manage the overwhelming feeling of failure. Not only because I was rejected, but because education is extremely important to me and it’s a big part of my identity. It was frustrating to quantify how many hours of effort I put into the application process – from taking the GREs to researching faculty to writing essays – which amounted to nothing.

Failure is fascinating. We need to prepare for it, because if we challenge ourselves, we should fail. However, we must not dwell in the possibility of failure, because we will eventually succeed. Maybe it’s not the path we originally planned, but something good will happen by working toward different variations of what we want with persistence.

After my experience of failing without preparation, I now try to pause during times of uncertainty and reflect on the possibility of multiple outcomes. By working toward peacefulness and acceptance of myself, right now as I am, regardless of other people’s decisions or even my own achievements, I am building a strong foundation of resilience.

I didn’t apply for PhD programs again this fall. Instead I decided to continue progressing in my higher education work and slowly earn my masters degree part-time, then apply again when the time feels right. It’s not as exciting as throwing myself into the sociological research and classes I love; but I made a decision to not allow an admissions committee to dictate my self-worth. And that’s a step toward success.

Hello!

final hello
(Liz Looker)

I see this blog as a platform for discussing art through multiple lenses. Conversations about art will include the role of art in urban areas, activist art fighting for voices excluded from mainstream media, local artists and art advocates, and the intersection of place-based art and culture in cities – primarily Boston, but also around the world. There will also be some themes around wellness, yoga, travel, and personal reflection.

I spend my Mondays-Fridays working in higher education administration at a university in Boston. I’m a 200-hour certified vinyasa yoga teacher. I love creating and finding art.

My hope for this blog is that it brings people together so we can reflect and share. Feel free to leave a comment/link to your site/etc.