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Speak Up

Lake Michigan

The weekend of art at our Landscape into Abstraction class ended with the group going from table to table to view and discuss each other’s work.

At the beginning of the weekend, that discussion would have turned my stomach.  Most of the participants were former art students, and for the first half of the first day, I worried I didn’t really belong in the class.  By the time we began discussing each other’s work, I knew everyone belongs in that class — or at least one like it.

The weekend began with a brief look at abstraction, it’s history, and the places it has taken artists from van Gogh to Rothko.  Then our instructor, painter Marianne Mitchell, then talked a little about her own creative journey through different media and techniques, culminating with a demonstration of her own method.

After a few timed drawing exercises, we went to our tables to experiment with her technique and medium (oil pastels).  I had no idea what I was doing and, after trying a few pieces with the oil pastels and abstract expressionism, tried to implement ‘reckless abandon’ in my usual medium of watercolor.  At first I worried that by introducing landscape elements such as a horizon line, I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to do. I worried what all writers and artist worried – that it wasn’t good, that I should be doing something differently.

Then our teacher, in the tradition of the best creative mentors said something that everyone should hear.  “Be kind to your (creative) self,” she said.  Then she continued, “There is no supposed-to.”  And the phrase was banned for the weekend.  The rest of the weekend we explored techniques and talked about infusing principles of composition with our voice, beginning each piece with what our instructor called ‘Reckless Abandon.’

And that’s when I realized what the class was about.

At first I thought of Reckless Abandon as Reckless Joy, but it isn’t. It’s actually digging deep into your soul and finding that voice you might not ordinarily share.  It’s about just getting it out.  The next phases of the work were about shaping that voice, making it more than noise to really make it heard.

It’s something I’ve been discovering in my writing through my blog over the last few years.  But, even though I’ve reconnected to art in a very meaningful way, I’ve still felt like I wasn’t sure who I was as an artist.  It was in the timed drawing and painting exercises that eliminated planning and judgement that I realized I’m still searching for my visual voice.

That the class was as much about voice as technique came through during our final group discussion.  I noticed that each person’s reckless abandon looked completely different from the rest, and that was exactly as it was supposed to be(that was the only ‘supposed-to’ I let myself say after Saturday afternoon).

There’s this idea in our society that one needs to be a professional to engage in and share one’s creativity, whether it’s a painting or photography or music.  But when anyone, professional painters or plumbers, first chair violinists or kids plucking out a first tune on a keyboard  share their art or contribute to a community play, they are giving the gift of their authentic selves — their voice.  They are connecting us to them and themselves to us in a world that badly needs connection.

It was that gift each of us was giving the other on Sunday.