Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hero Worship

One of the blogs I like to visit from time to time is called the Accidental Creative. A recent post about expectations ( struck a cord with me. Some of the points he talks about are ones that I have touched on here before; the perfect image in our heads that our work never measures up to, and the opinions of others about our work and how that can influence our creative process. But one area that he discusses, which I have thought about, but not written about before is that of hero worship.

The idea is that we are struck by the work of another, and an imitative process develops. At first this imitation can be slavish. Eventually the voice of the maker should emerge. But sometimes that new and unique voice can be still influenced by the "hero". There is a question, conscious or subconscious about direction. Is this how she/he would do this? It may be a lack of confidence in our own abilities to adequately interpret the technique and give it a new life. Or perhaps a fear that we will not be honoring our hero by straying too far away from their point of view. The questions he poses in this regard are a good ones...."Is my worship of the work of others affecting my creativity? Is my desire for the "benefits" of their success clouding my creative vision?

When I started working with polymer clay almost four years ago I began by getting several books and experimenting and learning as much as I could. One of the books was Foundations of Design in Polymer Clay by Barbara MacGuire. On the cover of the book is one of Kathleen Dustin's heart shaped vessels/purses. I was in awe of that piece. It motivated me to learn more and more about this material.

I began experimenting with translucent clay and layering translucent clay. I went up to the New Hampshire Craftsman's Guild show at Sunapee that first year, and was thrilled to see that Kathleen Dustin was there with her work. Seeing her work in person made me more in awe of what she had accomplished.

Eventually I was able to take a class with Kathleen. So many of the questions I had about "how" were finally answered. But now the real work began. I knew in my heart, that as much as I loved the work she did, trying to do exactly what she does would always feel empty. Both in the results and in the process. I had to take what I learned from her, and figure out how to make it my own.

It is virtually impossible to work with this technique and not see Kathleen's influence. Initially, I was hearing the things that Kathleen taught us in the class, and trying to stick to the process as taught. But over time I have been wandering off the path, so to speak. Accidental discoveries. Or changes in the process that better suit who I am as an artist. The goal is not to deny her inspiration, but just to find my own way with the knowledge she has shared. Develop my own designs, my own palette and subject matter. To bring my experience and influences to the work.

I cannot be Kathleen Dustin, and the universe does not need me to be Kathleen Dustin. But I am thankful that she teaches the technique that she uses. It has set me on a path of exploration that is loaded with possibilities. Who inspires you to learn more about your media? Are you trying to work in their shadow, or have you been giving yourself the space to discover your own interpretation? Wandering off the beaten path may seem scary. Yet look at the long lines at the roller coaster rides at an amusement park. Scary can be exciting and exhilirating. Break a rule. Scare yourself with your work. Step outside where you have been before. And above all, enjoy the ride.

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