Finding your groove

The need to make something can be a tenacious itch, clawing to be released into the world. You can try to forget it — like an early summer mosquito bite — refusing to scratch it, aiming your mind elsewhere, hoping it will just go away.
If you suppress it too often, maybe you’ll succeed in dulling your senses, in refusing to heed that inner call. You’ll have managed to wrap yourself in a cocoon, impervious, detached. Congratulations, you can focus on what’s “important,” undistracted  — for now.

Sometimes, the reason you ignore that call is because you haven’t yet found the right way to scratch it. Not every medium is right for every artist. For some reason, maybe it’s physical or aesthetic, we may need to keep shopping for a while ‘till we find the right instrument.  Bassoon players are somehow different from conga drummers, dancers are different from print makers.  (I think it’s sort of strange that in high school band, teachers will often assign instruments to kids, rather than letting them find their perfect musical partner). You need to find your perfect groove.

A few years ago, I visited Creative Growth in Oakland, CA. It’s an amazing hive of artistic activity, all coming from people with various disabilities. I will never forget the energy in that room, with dozens of artists working all day, every day, making paintings, subjects, ceramics, mosaics, prints… it was overwhelming and beautiful. Creatively, these people seemed to have no disabilities or challenges; they’d all found their groove.


When we visited the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore recently, I re-encountered an artist who I’d met at Creative Growth years before. Judith Scott was born deaf, mute and with an IQ of 30. She was also a twin. When she was seven, she was sent away to an institution. She was separated from her sister (who was not disabled), and because of her low IQ, she wasn’t given any training of any kind. So she just sat and festered, neglected, alone.
After thirty-five years in the institution, her sister Joyce managed to spring Judith from the institution and bring her home to live with her. Soon Judith started going to Creative Growth. But at the start, she could not connect. She had no apparent interest in drawing or painting, drawing aimless scribbles and little more. She didn’t speak so no one knew what she needed to take off.

Then, one day, Judith wandered into a class given by a textile artist named Sylvia Seventy. She saw the skeins of yarn and spools of thread and suddenly found her passion.  But, instead of following the projects that Sylvia was leading the rest of the class through, Judith began to make her own sort of art, something radical and new. She wrapped objects in yarns and cloth, binding them together into cocoons and nests and complex interconnecting forms.  Much of her art seems to be about connection and twins,  binding together networks and forms into a powerful and non-verbal  emotional message. I can look at her piece for ages, following the colors and lines, and somehow feeling something so sweet and strong and comforting.
I’m not the only person who responded to Judith’s art. Her work is in the permanent collections of several museums and has been the subject of books, films and gallery shows. She made hundreds of amazing pieces in the last two decades of her life.

Judith passed away in 2005. She had lived to be 61, which is extraordinary for a person with Down’s syndrome.  I like to believe that her art and her sister’s love kept her going.

I love Judith’s story because it feel so familiar to me. I can identify with what it must have felt like to go from being abandoned in an institution to suddenly seeing the light, to discovering one’s medium, one’s voice, and to see it grow richer and more complex and expressive. And how easily she might never have found her medium and remained mute and locked down. Judith didn’t have the ability to wander through an art supply store, a museum, to trawl the web, and to find her groove.

True love doesn’t just appear. You have to keep your eyes open and look for it.  Just because you don’t yet know how to scratch it, don’t ignore that itch.

A waste?

global art junkieI was flattered when “Global Art Junkie” posted my Art of Breakfast video on her blog along with some lovely accompanying words. Then I was struck by a comment by a lady who said,

See, this is why I don’t get art journals. Here he’s made something wonderful, and it’s spread over two pages in a book. What a waste! Now he’s going to have to do it again if he wants it to be on one whole piece of paper, and it’s never going to be the same. At least, that how it would be with me. (emphasis added)

I appreciate her POV but felt obliged to explain myself in a comment of my own. You can read it here. What do you think?

An introduction

A new member to the EDM group on Yahoo wrote a lovely introduction I wanted to share:

Hello,

I’m writing from Italy, a small city from the south of Italy.

Arts or the thousand ways to make arts were always inside the genes of my family. All my uncles from my mother’s side were almost pro music players. And I played a lot of jazz and the bass.

All of them were having also some strange genes and i have cousins that are chefs, my mother is superb in many crafts, my sister try to work in USA as comic colorist. She was lucky to attend an art school, so she is great.

I started doodling since I was a kid going around in the garden scratching my legs. In my adolescence I stop drawing and I attempted to be a professional painting restorer and I studied arts. I always collected art materials and so my lovely wife. I’m lucky she’s my first supporter.

But the ways of life are so strange and I became something else, dunno if more rewarding but currently I work for an international organization.

It was down there this fire, buried, my will to make some art as pleasure for myself. In the meantime, due my work, my missions in Africa I felt alone. very alone. The work was and it’s still very hard. The heat the humidity and mosquitoes can stress any people, believe me.

But I love my job… but sometimes get stressful shades.

My only relief in missions was only my wife’s voice on the phone and a sketchpad with a pencil. I made a lot of ugly drawings, some designs. Doodles. Lines with the will to be something more.

It was funny to see how time was passing with some good music. And i felt good if not better.

Months after I blown more on that fire burning inside me, and It was like to be rebirth, seriously. My wife also gifted to me a new bike.

Bingo. With the excuse to go to buy a toothpaste I go around my very small city (yes also to buy the toothpaste… :))) and I stop where I find something interesting.

My goodness, I feel everything interesting. Even if I stay at home I can draw everything is inside in an infinite doodle or in a lifetime long drawing. I feel and I like to draw everything from the lips of my wife to the coffee machine. From the ears of my cat to the old dustbin on my balcony. I can sit in the living room as drunk and I can pass any minute of my Saturday night with ease without even touching water, drawing and painting with a smile.

I can draw the toilet paper or a bowl of fruits or an ugly portrait of soap opera character with the same happiness.

That simple, I will never get bored. Something like a drug, an obsession for every single dust of the life.

So very later on I made also a blog where I show some of my crude sketching.

And I called everything is worth to be sketched because to me it’s like that. Apart from the results… eehehehehhe

Thanks to the fate I met also some inspiring books for myself mad thoughts. They are the books of Danny Gregory, all of them, that like a bomb exploded freeing me more and more. Me and my lovely wife. So grateful.

Thanks to letting me in this group, and sorry for the long presentation.

Cheers,

Stefano
Visit his blog here

More than you could possibly want to know about me.

Last week, the lovely and inspiring Jane LaFazio sent me a bunch of questions for an interview and I decided to turn them into a little film, shot in my home and the places  I frequent about town. It’s a little long, 20 minutes or so, but vaguely amusing:

You can see Jane’s comments about it here;

http://janeville.blogspot.com/2012/07/interviews-as-inspiration-danny-gregory.html

Where to?


Soon after Jack passed his first birthday, we started collecting his art. I have a shelf full of his drawings and paintings neatly stored in plastic sleeves, binder after binder of his collected works. So many of his passions – soccer, Warhammer, Pokemon, Harry Potter, Tintin,  drums — have ebbed and waned, but, through thick and thin, he has continued to paint and draw and make art for year after year. Certainly, Patti and I encouraged his interest, but Jack is the one who sustained it. He has a will of his own and no matter how many crayons and markers we bought him, he wouldn’t have continued if he didn’t have an innate desire to make things.

Jack has had a solid art education so far. He’s done some sort of formal art program every summer, in competitive programs filled with talented kids. He was accepted into the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and has spent the last three years augmenting his regular classes with two hours of  drawing and painting every single day. This consistency shows in his work – he can draw anything fearlessly and accurately, he has a great eye for composition and color, and increasingly he is taking bold and imaginative steps forward, challenging himself to do new things in new media. Recently he has decided he is interested in pursuing design. He loves typography, he likes problem solving, and the more he learns about all of the things designers do in the course of their work, the more intrigued he becomes.

So far, so good.

Now Jack is a junior in high school and we are putting together the list of colleges he’ll apply to this fall. The big question is, should he put all his efforts into polishing his portfolio and vying for a great art school like RISD or SVA ? Or should he go to a solid, creative liberal arts college where he can take some art classes, maybe even in major in design but also get a well-rounded education.

Now if Jack was good at nothing but art, the decision would be simpler. But the fact is, he’s a good student in all his classes, hard working, smart, critical but involved. He’s also a natural leader, a popular person who has always had his mother’s social skills.

For me, as someone who has long encouraged people to bravely embrace their artistic side, who wishes he could go to art school himself, this is no time to encourage him to toe the straight and narrow, to face the bleak future most art school grads purportedly have, saddled with enormous student loans that they must pay off by working in Starbucks for the rest of their lives. Art schools, we hear, are full of rich kids and directionless losers. We both know that’s an exaggeration. We both know that you should follow your passion and the rest will straighten itself out. We also both know that most of the passions of 16 year-olds are rarely long-lived, that Jack does not want to wake up in a  dorm room some day and wonder whether he’s actually learning anything useful.

There’s no simple answer to this common dilemma. We are going into it with our eyes open, accumulating impressions and advice, balancing pros and cons, and waiting to see which way fortune blows us.

It would be a lot easier to tackle this all-important crossroad if Patti was here to lend us her wisdom and hold our hands. But I think  she’d tell us to do what we’re doing. We haven’t screwed anything up too badly so far. Let’s hope we do okay on this round too.

 

—– Post script.

We just met with Jack’s guidance counsellor who assure me that Jack is in great shape for next year and that we really needn’t make any decisions at this point. I am starting to think this process will only be as difficult as we let ourselves make it.