PONDERINGS on making mistakes

Congratulations to those who spotted the error in my last posting! No, it wasn’t Scientology. It was Theosophy. Oh dear. Fancy making such a public mistake confused face.


It set me pondering though, this time on the value of making mistakes.

I recall learning to ride my bike. How ever hard I tried, I could never keep it upright long enough to turn the pedal.  Then we moved house and the boy next door invited me to try riding his father’s racer across the field. Every time I wobbled he somehow held the bike, and me, upright.  He pointed out what I was doing wrong each time and, being a ten year old boy, he simply did not believe I couldn’t do it. I think it was because he believed in me that I did too. I couldn’t reach the ground so I was in danger of falling off many times but, by the end of the day, I could ride a bike! 

Maths lessons were rather similar. I’m not sure I made the same use of my errors there, though there were many of them, since I still have trouble keeping track of numbers. Nevertheless, it is mistakes that help us learn. Mixing the wrong two varieties of red and blue and finding instead of purple, you have brownish grey is a quicker way of learning than memorising colour charts and, as often as Mum says to two year old, ‘Don’t touch, it’s hot’, trying it and feeling the hurt is what really helps him remember.

According to the Bible, we’re supposed to become perfect.  So why, you might ask, are we sent here in such a fallible condition?  Why can’t we be born knowing everything, understanding everything?  It would be so much easier.  Wouldn’t it?

Have you ever sat through a lecture on a subject you are already very familiar with and found your eyes glazing over, your mind going into day-dream mode and, before you know it, the session is over and you leave feeling the whole thing was a waste of time?  I think life without the opportunity to make mistakes would be a bit like that.

On the other hand, if during that lecture, something wakes you up.  You might hear the familiar topic being described in ways you hadn’t thought of before.  Life’s failures can be the wake up we need, the means of seeing things with a new perspective.  Through them we may learn empathy and gain a sympathetic understanding that enables us to bless the lives of others. Perhaps its not so much the error as its consequence that is the teaching moment.  

Each misstep or stumble provides the opportunity to reassess how we place our feet, to determine new directions, find a way of performing better and getting further than we have before. Few mistakes are terminal. Mostly they just show us where we need to learn a bit more or take a bit more care. So next time I cite an historic fact, I’ll check my sources before I publish winking face .  Enjoy your mistakes, miscalculations, blunders, wobbles and other aberrations this week and may you learn some truly life-changing things!

Ponderings on understanding art

A friend told me the other day she had looked at the image of my print from all directions but couldn’t understand it.  It made me think.

First of all, do I understand it?

Sometimes the art I make is so intuitive, especially when I’m printmaking, that I may not be really clear why I like it or even what it’s about!
All I do know is, where it began. So, first of all, here’s the print again. All things counter -matted

 

And here’s where it began.

sketchbook page
The tulip was drawn twice on the left, at different angles and then the main lines picked out and refined.

Basically, it’s a stylised tulip flower with splayed leaves, simplified for the purpose of printing with stencils. My original plan was a composite print made up of quadrants and I made a couple of those, but when you’ve used a stencil on top of wet ink, it picks up the ink on its reverse.  It is just too tempting to use that by printing the piece on another, or even the same sheet of paper, with the inky side down. This reverses its position and starts a whole new creative process!  Before this stem was yellow, (see below), it was used as a stencil to block out purple.  Printed in reverse in became a purple stem.  Instead of printing it on a clean sheet, I printed it over a print that hadn’t worked very well and, with the addition of some other inky stencils, some using drier ink or less pressure, the image began to take shape. I liked the balance of colour and shape, so it was a ‘keeper’.  Obviously someone else liked it, too!

 

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one quadrant of the composite print showing the stem part.

So, knowing where it came from might help, but it could be that knowing too much can spoil it since it might not say ‘tulip’ or ‘spring flowers’ to you!

Appreciating art, whether it is abstract or not, has to do with feeling as much as seeing.  I asked my neighbours what prompted them to buy works of art and the universal response was, ‘because I like it!’

 

One of my neighbours described for me a painting she had bought many years ago, ‘because she liked it’. Words such as ‘it reminded me’, ‘it looked like…’, ‘the colours were nice’, didn’t really describe the image.  They were her feelings about it, the memories or associations it evoked.  You see, liking a piece of art really has little to do with what it depicts.

I have a shelf full of ‘art books’, literally hundreds of reproductions of famous art-works. My journey into art began with books borrowed from the library.  Reading the background helped me see that there was more to abstract art than meets the eye.  Yes, that is what I meant to say!

At college, I was introduced to the work of Abstract Expressionist artists such as Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Cy Twombly and Willem de Kooning in reproduction.  We looked at images of their work and learned a bit about the purposes and origins of the movement.  Rothko I could live with and liked some of his colour combos, colour being ‘my thing’. The others I wasn’t so sure about and Pollock I wrote off altogether. Years later, I went to  the Abstract Expressionist exhibition at the Royal Academy.  I walked into the rotunda and was stunned.  It was wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling (because that’s how big they are) Rothko’s. I stood in awe, dazed by the intensity of colour but also the intensity of feeling.  It was as though the paint came off the canvas and enveloped me. I didn’t want to leave.  But there were other things to see.  Wending my way round the exhibition, I found the de Koonings underwhelming compared to their reproductions I had seen.  Then I came to a wall of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings.  I was going to walk quickly past, giving them a cursory glance.  After all, these weren’t real art were they? But I kept getting drawn to one here, another there.  There was more depth in them than I expected. They are quite measured in the application of those seemingly random drops.  They seemed to be saying something.  I still wouldn’t necessarily want to live with one, but now it is because of the disturbing feelings they provoke rather than because I don’t like them or understand them.  Rothko and Pollock were both influenced by Scientology which suggests that everything is spiritual and so, like Wassily Kandinsky they were concerned with the spiritual in art. The image was nothing if it did not embody and invoke feeling.

This is true of all forms of artistic expression.  I remember being overwhelmed when I first saw one of Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’ in the flesh. I realised that he wasn’t just depicting flowers in his garden.  He was trying to convey to us how they made him feel.  Music, too, has the power to transcend the notes on the page.  A youthful member of our congregation brought tears as she played her cello for us in Church on Sunday.  I felt the Spirit because she did, too, and so had the composer.  Art is a powerful thing.  That is why it has been used, or misused, as propaganda throughout the last century and before.

So I think I have two messages here.  One is obviously, don’t write off an unfamiliar form of art without letting it ‘speak’ to you in person.  The other is, don’t write off your own artistic endeavours, be they drawing or playing the piano, because they are not perfect reproductions of your subject or score. The more important question is, ‘Do they say something about you? Do they share the way you feel about the thing you are depicting or performing?’  Doesn’t look like a dog?  Don’t worry. Sometimes even a dog doesn’t look like a dog, especially when it’s really excited by something!

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PONDERINGS on Confidence

This week I discovered that I am a strange combination of shy and so opinionated I can’t keep my thoughts to myself!  As a small child, I was very frightened of talking to people.  I didn’t make friends easily and, because of the places we lived, I had little opportunity to learn how to interact with others. I enjoyed my own company, so I never felt this was a problem. My mother didn’t allow me to take the 6-penny bus ride into town on my own until I was thirteen, by which time I was convinced it was a dangerous place and was terrified I might get lost and have to speak to someone!

I hadn’t gained much more confidence by the time I left home at 17 but I had begun to put a few strategies in place to deal with that knot in the stomach every time a conversation loomed. I remember, some years later, when my daughter was 3 years old.  My husband’s work had taken us to a new town.  I didn’t know anybody and hadn’t even met my neighbours to speak to – strategy no. 1 – stay out of the way so no one speaks to you!

The playgroup met in the Old Independent Church up the road. I needed to enrol my 3 year-old.  How many times I walked up to that enormous oak door and raised my hand to knock, then walked away again. It took weeks before I could bring myself to knock and introduce myself. Once there, still without saying too much to anyone, I would stay and help put the tables away and before long I was asked if I would go on the committee.

A couple of years later we moved again.  Soon, the village playgroup needed a supervisor and guess who stepped up to do it! Strategy no.2 – volunteer to be at the front! and only engage in ‘factual’ conversations.  That is, only talk to people on things you know about, avoid anything ‘deep’ and never discuss feelings or needs, only opinions.

Over the years I have hidden the shyness inside me even from myself.  I think I am a pretty good listener in any one-to-one situation but starting a conversation with people I don’t know very well is still hard and phone calls are a re-run of knocking on that Church door. Lots of uncomfortable silences. I still have plenty of opinions and I like to share them, whether or not you want to hear them! I love to share things I’ve learned and I have taught many different age-groups over the years, in voluntary capacities.

So what happened this week to remind me how unconfident I am? Well, I joined a course on starting and growing a business.  It was my responsibility to set up the course and no one else wanted to facilitate the meetings, so I’m doing it. Growing stress suggested even this was less than comfortable.  Then, in the first class, we were given the Paper Clip Challenge.  You may have come across it. You take a paper clip and trade it with someone, then trade what you received for something else, and so on.  Oh my, Church door all over again! The boundary rail of my ‘comfort zone’ is so far away, I feel as though I might drown.

I have lovely neighbours and we get on well but the thought of knocking on their door to invite them to trade me something was keeping me awake at nights.  It took 3 days and some very sincere prayers to pluck up courage.  One answer to a prayer was a plan.  When my husband agreed to trade me a pepper plant I figured I could trade it next door for some eggs from their hens.

Gingerly I made my way round and managed to explain what help I needed.  The result was lots of interest and advice, a very supportive and useful conversation, oh, and 6 hen’s eggs!  How enjoyable that was. I should talk to my neighbours more often! Since then I’ve turned 4 eggs into a cake and traded it with the neighbour the other side of me, traded the other 2 eggs for some rhubarb from next-door-but-one and started the process with a third neighbour across the road. Every time there was that knot in the stomach.  I even woke at 4.30 a.m. thinking about what I needed to do. But I’ve done it!

Yesterday my daughter shared some things a 10 year-old had said in an address at Church about humility.  One thought-provoking thing was that you need self-confidence to be humble. I’ve never connected the two before but I think she’s right. When you lack confidence, you hide behind things you know you’re knowledgeable about, especially things you know more about than the people you’re talking to.  It doesn’t speak of humility when you’re trying to prove that you are someone worth conversing with, instead of simply showing an interest in those you are with.  So I would add to self-confidence, self-esteem.  I think they are are more closely connected than we realise.

I’m grateful for my wonderful neighbours and the good advice they’ve shared with me.  I’m also thankful to the gentleman who purchased one of my framed prints at the Gainsborough’s House Print Workshop exhibition last week.  When I heard that he had looked all round and chosen mine as his favourite, both my self-esteem and my confidence grew.  I hope the experiences I’m having on this course will help me develop both and I hope that will make me a nicer person to know.  At least, perhaps I’ll like myself better! and who knows, maybe I’ll find better ways of getting my art ‘out there’ and influencing more people’s lives for good.

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The print I sold last week. One of my favourites, too!