I don’t promise coherence in this post, it is an early morning (public) musing. I do it here for lack of a conversation partner at the moment, and because this blog, as opposed to artcalling, has only a handful of followers, most of whom understand the context of transition and the place between stories.
Recently, on a friend’s recommendation, I ordered David Whyte’s, ‘Crossing the unknown Sea, Work as a pilgrimage of identity’. I’m halfway through it and what I’ve read so far is spot on for me at this point in in my journey to a new story.
One thing he says is that in childhood, we have all had an intimation of the work that would fulfil us as adults. Whether we are able to keep true to that vision or not is something else, of course.
For the life of me, I can’t remember wanting any profession at all (this in itself is a key!). Though, for a brief time, inspired by my love of horses, I wanted to be a vet.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been drawing and painting. I never aspired to be an artist because I already was one. Working with my hands and creating informed every part of my life.
I think the crunch for me and my work came in the way that purity got overlaid once it interfaced with the world. I was fortunate to have parents who nurtured this direction and gave me every encouragement to follow that path. But they and their friends were a bit in awe of artistic ability, so immediately I felt special because of my ‘talent’.
Too early on, creating beautiful things became my sole source of praise, and self-worth. I think it took me an entire adult life to start to reclaim my art for myself, and disengage it from the outer trappings of approval. David Whyte speaks about diving deep down to the core of our work where we are engaged in larger conversations with unknown forces hugely distanced from the usual criteria of professionalism, income generation and success. He says that without this larger conversation, nothing will nourish us, we won’t find the passion or renewal needed to progress and grow and become fulfilled in our work.
When I think back, though to childhood, what did I love? Certainly art materials, I still rejoice at the colours in a new set of oil pastels or paints. But I equally loved being outside in every season, and playing in nature. And I adored and still do adore horses above all other animals. I loved playing by myself, making up stories, writing them down and making little books, cards and other gifts for my parents. I wrote poems a lot. I made doll’s clothes. I made jewellery. I crafted a tiny desk and chair for my mother who loved miniatures. I specialised in calligraphy in high school and college- encouraged by father who loved my handwriting.
Now, I find, I am happiest being left alone (figuratively) in my studio to do what I want. I paint, and sometimes I write, sometimes I make crafts as gifts, I actually am inexplicably stockpiling a number of finely crafted tiny books, pin cushions, and crocheted hearts to give away. Why is yet to be revealed. After decades of concentrating so desperately on generating an income from my art, gift giving is becoming an increasingly prominent activity which I find fits who I am now and is extraordinarily fulfilling.
Aha! the insight, this is what I loved best to do in childhood! I’ve paid the dues for 40 years, (and they were often fulfilling and enervating years) doing work on commission, meeting deadlines, haggling prices, administrating my freelance business. But these activities all took the joy out of creating.
And now I am free to follow what I loved most as a child, to just make stuff and occasionally give it to people. But also to be outside much more, to garden and walk and go and visit the horses down at the end of the village.
I still feel an approaching vocation that I sense will find me when the time is ripe. It will be exciting and meaningful in the new context of social engagement and ecology. It will be collaborative without a doubt. It will use all of me, not just the making things with my hands part. And it will demand that I contribute who I am, who I am becoming, and not just what I do.