Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Importance of Becoming a Beginner. Again.

"El Greco's Alphabet"
c2019 by author

Greetings.  Years ago I was invited to wrote the "Last Word" article for an issue of Quilting Arts magazine.  To my amusement the theme is just as relevant today as it was over 5 years ago. Perhaps this will resonate with you, too.  Read on:

The Importance of Being a Beginner (Again)


As you encounter this title you may wonder why anyone, ANYONE, would want to be a beginner again.  Stay with me here as I extol the virtues of being somewhat clueless.

First, let’s acknowledge the pain and frustration that is often part of beginning.  The unknown is frightening, right?  Who doesn’t want to stay in the “safe zone”?  We all know that zone: we dwell in it and may have become an “expert” in that arena.  It is comfortable:  a bit like wearing our favorite old t-shirt and fuzzy slippers.  And that, in my opinion, can be good and bad for artistic work. 

Expertise implies mastery of a given technique.   Just for fun, let’s call that skill your “Superpower”.  It’s great to have a Superpower because it can be leveraged in another direction.  Yes, I am suggesting that you focus your energy into new territory.  I’m suggesting that you become a beginner.

Why?   Because nudging yourself out of your comfort zone leads to new and exciting work.  Should you abandon the comfort zone entirely?  Certainly not.    But I AM asking you to immerse yourself in unfamiliar territory because often (frequently!) that is where the magic happens.  We dream of trying something new but tell ourselves we will do it “later”.  Later becomes default language for “never”.  

Why am I thinking about this?  Recently I left my familiar realm and began to study improvisational design and sewn construction.  Embarking on this new study required me to re-set my brain into a learning curve, leave my ego at home, and open myself to new and challenging information.  The process has been both humbling and exhilarating.

“Around here we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths”. ―Walt Disney


It is, indeed, where one can capture magic and excitement.  

When I examine the body of any artist’s work I am fascinated to see changes that occur in style and subject matter.  I like to think about what might have informed the evolution. 

“Creativity takes courage.”.

― Henri Matisse

I tend to believe stagnation is based in fear of the unknown.  It certainly works that way for me. Often, artists are reluctant to move past certain work because it is a reliable source of income and recognition and is comfortable terrain.  One can and should keep making work that is satisfying.  I simply challenge you to push yourself a bit and try something new.  I believe the act of embarking into unfamiliar territory may influence everything else you create.  Understand this:  nothing will replace showing up in the studio and doing the work.  Some of the work isn’t going to be good:  accept it.  Nancy Crow states that it is “important to be ruthless with yourself” about your own work.  As a beginner (and someone with a Superpower!), we must be willing to edit our work and use disappointing results as motivation toward more elevated results. Another truth is that frustration can be fuel.  Fill the tank and take it out for a spin.  Who knows where the journey will take you?

“It’s supposed to be hard.  If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.  The hard is what makes it great”. --Jimmy Dugan in “A League Of Their Own”.


“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

hand-dyed swatches generated in Neutral Territory
a workshop facilitated by Carol Soderlund

I'm including info about the Neutral Territory workshop because I just finished taking it for the second time.  Packed with information, I learned so much by working through the course again.  Study with Carol if you are interested in learning about fiber-reactive dye!




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