Friday, January 19, 2007

Behind the Curtain

A turning point in The Wizard of Oz movie is when Dorothy and her crew find out the wizard is really just an ordinary person hidden behind the curtain. The power they had bestowed upon the Wizard was really just imagery filled in by their imaginations. They wanted him to be great and powerful, so he was. Looking behind the curtain can remove some of the mystery and the artifice around an image or idea. But it can also make the inaccessible, more accessible.

This idea of looking behind the curtain keeps bubbling up in my head lately. I guess part of what I am trying to do is to pull back the curtain so you can look around. The life of an artist/artisan is surrounded by a sense of wonder and mystery for a lot of people. It is one thing to be creative and make something for yourself or for your family. But how do you get from there to where your work is on display in shops or galleries, or your work is on display at shows? This is where all the mystery and questioning seems to begin. “What makes them different from me?”

Aside from the fact that I was now running a business, I now had to think about creating a cohesive collection of work. I had to consider the process of making my work. Is this the best way to make this piece? What else could I do with it? Is my finishing as good as it could be, or needs to be? How can I change this design to reduce my price? Or can I? Some of these questions were raised by feedback I got as I began to present my work to potential customers.

It sometimes takes a thick skin to be able to stand up to the scrutiny of others. But it also can help you see things about your work you might never have noticed. Good and bad.

I am a color junkie. I love to play with color. And it is one of the things about my work that draws people in. But I have come to understand more specifically what it is about the colors I use and the variations in intensity that people react to. Somehow, when I am immersed in making a piece, I have lost the view of the forest. I am focusing in more and more on the details. When I create a vessel, I may spend many, many hours over the course of a week working on a particular piece. I develop a relationship with it almost! I know each piece with an intimacy that no one else could. I know every detail about how it was created. So when I look at a group of vessels together, I am seeing them as the individuals they were for me. But someone seeing my work for the first time is seeing the collection. They are getting struck by a general sense that I could no longer see. What they feed back to me, helps feed me, and helps me grow in understanding my own work.

I used to focus my energy on my favorite steps in the process of creating. Other steps were just done to get through. Not really engaging me fully. Or I struggled with them. I couldn’t wait for a particular step to be done, as I fought my way through. But in the end, my lack of attention showed. I had to learn to pay closer attention. Refine and hone my skills in those areas, or the whole piece did not live up to its potential. Some of that feedback was difficult to hear, no matter how nicely it was delivered. But it was valuable information. I look at where my work is now, after working on those issues, and where it was before….and I can see the improvements. They matter to me. They may not be noticeable to someone who was not previously familiar with my work. But I see them. I know the struggle that went into it. I know what I have learned. And I know where I still struggle.

This intimacy with the material, the process, and the work is what is gained when you dive in with the commitment of making a career out of it. You learn the limits of your material, and you learn how to push those boundaries.

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