Art Experiences

Archive for March 2011

It’s that time of year when everyone is cleaning. Yard sales abound. There’s a lot more stuff out for bulk trash week. When Spring arrives, we just want to declutter. Even I (kind of) want to do it!

I’ve never been very good at cleaning, organizing, filing or getting rid of stuff. A creative mind often doesn’t want to focus on left brain activities. However I do really like to be able to find things when I need them, not have things spill out at me when I open a closet and live in a reasonably sanitary environment. I try to keep these likes in mind while attempting to create order in my life, home and studio.

For a few months now I have been reading about the trend towards minimalism. Most people who are attracted to this lifestyle concept want to have less stuff to store and clean. They want to lead a simpler, less stressed life by engaging in calming, uncluttered surroundings. I personally like the idea of simplifying my life; who couldn’t use a bit of space, both in our cabinets and in our consciousness? One of the most well known minimalist bloggers, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits fame, defines minimalism as eliminating the unnecessary to make room for the important. In theory this sounds great. Get rid of stuff you don’t love. Live with stuff you really love or really need. Get rid of commitments you don’t want to do. Say yes when it matters.

I LOVE art supplies. And I have a lot of them. I love shopping for art supplies, even though I hate shopping. I keep a lot of stuff just in case I need it. But this appears to go against all that minimalism espouses. How can I gain all the advantages of peace, harmony and organizational bliss while keeping all my stuff? Can artists be minimalists? Is there even a way to apply the principles of minimalism to art supplies?

I am going through all my supplies and evaluating how often I use them, which I think will give me an idea how important that item is. I have found a lot of things other people may not even consider art supplies, but when you teach creativity, everything is game! We make prints from bubble wrap and rope, we paint with hair combs and cotton balls and we make sculptures from toilet paper rolls and old machine parts. It’s going to be tough for me to throw out anything I think I could ever possibly use.

So far I haven’t had much trouble getting rid of several bags of clothes, bikes my kids outgrew years ago and dozens of extra cups cluttering up the kitchen cabinets. So I am on a roll of sorts. But art supplies seem sacred to me, I feel like I need them all. They’re art. They’re creative potential just waiting to be shaped. I just know a project will come along where I will want all those styrofoam balls. None of my art supplies seem unnecessary.

Maybe I will just organize it all into pretty containers. Maybe I will just get rid of a few really old things. Maybe I will scale back and get rid of half of the toilet paper rolls, glitter containers and paper scraps. It’s a conundrum, and something I will continue to consider.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about patience, probably because I find myself needing more of it, (especially with my two teenagers!). As with parenting, when it comes to creating, patience is how you get things done – little by little. You can’t create anything of value, whether it be a healthy and happy child, a fantastic painting or a great project at work without a lot of patience. I think it is human nature to want to accomplish things quickly, thus the proliferation of fast weight loss plans and get rich quick schemes. But we need to remind ourselves that quick fixes are rarely real fixes. Anything important, anything meaningful, anything big, takes time and therefore patience to work for that something for all of that time.

So then, what’s the payoff? My daughter is an actor, is in a lot of plays and needs to be at a lot of play rehearsals. Dozens of hours of rehearsals for a few performances and then it’s gone forever. Why would she do that? The answer is in the experience. Rehearsing plays gives her satisfaction and meaning. She would not want some magical being to come down, tap her head and all of a sudden she would know all the lines perfectly and become an instant expert at being her character. No, she wants the experience of doing it, even if it is tough at times. This is her way of creating.

Creating a piece of art, even in the broadest definition of art, can be difficult. It’s not always an enjoyable experience, but it is always a learning experience. As we grow in our abilities, discover our passions and try new things, we are bound to make mistakes, come up against walls and take a few steps backwards. And that is great because that is how we learn, by trial and error. I think having patience with ourselves is even harder than being patient with others.

However, the vast majority of the time you will spend creating is incredibly enjoyable and uplifting. This is why we do it. Creating feeds our minds and our souls. It keeps us sane, satisfied and happy. It fills us with pride.

Creating takes patience. But in that patience lies the experience. Does Lance Armstrong want a helicopter to fly him to the finish line? Does Wolfgang Puck want a gourmet meal to magically appear in his saute pan? Of course not, because they have the patience and they revel in the experience.

Enjoy the journey of life. There is no rush to get to the end.

As an artist, I had been under the impression that art means doing artwork – painting, sculpture, drawing, etc. Okay, maybe we can include writing music and poetry. However, reading the work of Seth Godin, author of a dozen books including “Linchpin” and a top notch blogger, changed my mind. Godin proposes that an artist is someone who does work that matters. Work that you would sacrifice for. An artist is someone who does “emotional work”.  They put their heart and soul into whatever they are doing. It doesn’t matter if you are the maintenance person who gladly fixes things that aren’t on today’s request form, the manager who makes connections between employees, the entrepreneur who finds innovative ways to work or the company president who truly leads. If you go above and beyond because you want to, because you love doing what you do, you are an artist and your work is art.

The truly amazing thing is this can be all of us. Every one of us is capable of doing something important that we can put ourselves into. Something brilliant that only you can do in your own way. Godin believes it’s our choice. And I agree.

Art. Crafts. Arts and crafts. What’s the difference? In my opinion, lots. Art is an act of creating something personal, something that emanates from your heart, your feelings, your soul, your experiences. The result can be a final product like a painting or sculpture, or it can be a sketch, an idea or something you end up throwing away. Craft is a project where you follow instructions to create an end result to keep or give as a gift. There is some amount of creativity and personalization in crafting and it can certainly come from your heart. Both of these processes are valid ways to learn and create.

Many people like to do crafts because it is comforting to have a set of written instructions to follow or at least to use as a starting point or basis. From there you can put in as much creativity as you feel comfortable with. There is a lot of value in following a set of instructions; be it in cooking a recipe, knitting a scarf or making a necklace. The world is full of instances where you should definitely follow the instructions. It is important to teach children to follow instructions also, not because we want to raise a generation of robots, but because this is life skill that, with experience, they will learn to use in the pertinent situations.

Alternately, there are others who dislike the constraints of instructions, especially when it comes to creative projects. In fact these people often purposely look for opportunities to break the rules, not because they are rebellious or immature, but because it stretches their creativity. It frees your mind to experiment with limitless possibilities. There is a lot of value in learning to “think out of the box”. Creative thinking and innovation has given us thousands of important inventions and breakthroughs. This is the kind of thought process that powers our changing technological world of today. Learning to stretch our creative thinking in order to solve problems big and small is an essential life skill as well. If children are raised to be curious, to question the status quo and brainstorm solutions, they will be well equipped to be successful, happy adults.

A few friends of mine frequent a painting place where you make a preplanned painting in one night. Although this paint by number type of art is not for me, I am glad that people go, paint, have a good time and take home something they are proud of. Since the vast majority of adults never paint, this is a great way to introduce them to the joys of painting and doing art in general. I am also glad we have many painting studios where people can paint what they want to and explore their creativity further.

Clearly there is something for everyone and when it comes to art, that is the way it should be. Go where you want to go, create what you want to create, and experience art on your own terms.


Hi! I'm Susan Stein and of my many passions in life,
two of my biggest are art and children. In the process of teaching children art, I also teach them problem solving, brainstorming, inventive thinking, originality, working with others, hand eye coordination, and so much more. It doesn't matter if you're good at drawing or not, everyone will benefit from experiencing art.

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