Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Serious Play

I got really into sculpting this morning, and then the absolute worst happened-- I ran out of clay. It's not a totally loss of energy, however. The order for more is on its way, and I got a little extra time to do some writing. Here is the first draft of an essay I wrote this afternoon, on an experience with artmaking, entitled, Serious Play.

Serious Play
by Emily Bedard

Although I consider myself a Sculptor, and have gone to school to be such for the past 4 years, I have to say, it wasn’t until today that I actually understood what it is to sculpt. The verb, to me, has always carried an inherent sense of vigor. Whenever I express it out loud, I feel inclined to use a deep, robust tone like a burly Italian carver from the old country; TO SCULPT. Whenever I say, “I am a sculptor,” it is always accompanied by a sense of romance, as if what I do is controlled by an inner sacred passion. It always makes me smile a little.

            Admittedly, I never felt truly seduced by the clay. I never felt like I was having an enthralling experience; in fact it always seemed like a lot of plain hard work. Which was perfectly fine for me, for I have always understood that hard work brings a strong outcome, and although I may not always enjoy the process, it can be a successful outcome that causes you to love the craft. But don’t get me wrong, most of the time when I was not cursing the concept of sculpture, I was enjoying it, and felt indubitably satisfied in pursuing it as a career. But deep down, I had always assumed my approach was rooted in logic. I just never felt comfortable employing the word “passionate” when explaining my relationship to sculpting.

            That was until this first day of Fall, 2009. This morning I went downstairs to my garage studio with a fresh, warm slab of microwaved clay. I was happy to begin the second day of sculpting my second-ever life-size figure. I flipped on NPR and started working. The clay was warm and smooth as I squeezed it through my fingers; I kneaded out the lumps, making a consistent slap to apply to my lady. I was still in the primitive stages of my nude, still massing in the forms that were barely beginning to suggest a shape. Every mass I added, I started to see progress; every piece of clay I added became more important than the piece before it; every piece of clay had a purpose, and I knew exactly where it was going before I laid it on. I completely blocked out the radio. I had entered…the zone. Instead of listening to the radio while sculpting, I was sculpting while the radio was on.  It felt great; I felt as though the clay was an extension of my fingers. As I laid each piece onto the sculpture, even though I knew where it was going, and what form it was creating, it was like I didn’t care. For some reason, it was not the outcome that was consuming me, it was the present moment. I was almost worried to step back and see what a mess a had created. But only Almost. Sculpting was all that mattered. The feeling was all I cared about. I was having fun. I was have a really. Good. Time. 

            Who knows what brought this on. This is my first sculpture outside of school, and perhaps I am excited by having some independence as an artist. This is my second life-size figure, so perhaps I am approaching it with more confidence and trusting myself not to fear experimentation. Perhaps I am just getting better at what I do. I hope it is all of these things. It is simply a comfort to know that I’m moving forward with my sculpture, it’s nice to get these hints that you might actually be progressing. Discovering what it feels like to be passionate when sculpting has been a very important experience. And as small a step as it may be, it feels like a leap for me. Although I now know how it feels, I am in no way expecting myself to feel this way 100% of the time. It is a fleeting moment, passing quickly, but leaving an impact. I feel grateful having had it, and respectful that it may not come again for some time. But, it makes me appreciate that the hard times are also important to making sculpture. It is important to hate it sometimes, it is important to labor through problems that seem unsolvable. Like anything, there needs to be conflict to have resolution. The enthusiasm will pass, as will the discouragement. Art-making is like a series a phases; it can be exciting, devastating, and even mediocre. It is the persistence through these stages that bare an artist.  The true artist understands the fragile balance between logic and emotion and how they are forever dependent upon one another in creating valid art; it is just as important to go with your mind as with your heart. 

Today, I merely caught a glance of how vital emotion is when creating, and it will be a long journey before I truly understand the dichotomy. Nevertheless, I will still smile just a little harder, whenever I remember the oxymoronic advice of a great teacher, “to regard art-making as Serious Play.” 

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