Making Bridges

A mirror that frames who we are.

In anxiety, Art, Confidence, Learning, Love, Teaching on April 24, 2012 at 9:42 am

20120424-194318.jpgI am beginning to realise that I sometimes lack perspective on myself. I guess we all do. Too often I chastise myself for a job done poorly only to have someone praise me about the very same task. I’m not convinced that I am too critical, rather the standards I set for myself are higher than the ones that others set for me. At other times I confidently complete something only to find I have missed the mark or my intentions are misunderstood.

I often need to test my ideas on other people, to check my motives as I am unsure of how I will be perceived. In some ways we all need our loved ones, mentors and friends to help hold a mirror to our practices and enlighten us when we are unable to achieve distance from an issue. The problem is, just as there are a variety of people in the world there are a variety of mirrors in our lives. Some choose to reflect what we do well, some are measured and others reflect more negative aspects of ourselves.

In visiting the Gallery of NSW earlier this year I was struck by the playfulness as well the as the poignancy in Ugo Rondinone’s work ‘clockwork or oracles 2011’. His work consists of multi-coloured mirrors framed and placed on a wall. The colours emulate a stained glass window and the light it reflects other-worldly. In each mirror I saw a subtly different person, some I liked more and some I would prefer to forget. Each held an essence of me. Some held me in an unflattering light but through that I still saw myself gazing back. I found the work profoundly moving.

20120424-194359.jpgThere are rare people who accept and allow you to be whoever you are in that moment. They realise that you are more than your actions, more than your failures and more than your successes. My Grandmother was one of those rare people. When I was very young and misbehaving she would say ” Oh dear! Where has Emily gone? Jemima Rhubarb has come through the window, stolen her away and taken her place. This must be Jemima Rhubarb because Emily would never intentionally hurt someone” . In that moment I knew that she saw my actions as separate to my being, separate to who I was. My actions were bad but I was not.

I cannot say that everyone I have encountered has given me that space. Like others I have had labels thrown at me, or misdirected reflections. The family member who chose to say ‘ you are lazy’ rather than ‘ you are being lazy’. The distinction is so slight but the impact so damaging. I have spent years trying to shake that particular label.

We all have a Jemima Rhubarb and sometimes it is necessary for someone to point out that she is taking over. We also have a self that is very easily divided, easily labelled and easily hurt. The perspectives of others good or bad define us. Our reflections define others.

In Ugo Rodinone’s work we are given a sense of time, we are not present in every mirror because some are below and above us. We know only what we see before us. What is before us is distorted, each one a truth that we can choose to swallow or reject. Each carries an essence of who we are. From a distance each are profoundly beautiful.



Draw the unfamiliar: Today’s tip for improving your drawing

In Art, Drawing, Learning, Teaching on April 23, 2012 at 4:25 am

Draw the unfamiliar. Our brains like shortcuts, to make information manageable our brain will categorize and summarise.  Keep this in mind when you are drawing, if you only draw subjects you are used to your brain will begin to simplify the information, what this means is that you will forget to look for detail.  When we stop looking for detail we draw what we expect something to be rather than observing it for what it is.  To push your sketching choose subjects that are unfamiliar, have unexpected detail and force you to continue to check yourself.

Drawing on confidence

In Art, Confidence, Drawing on April 22, 2012 at 7:40 am

“The essence of drawing is the line exploring space.” ~ Andy Goldsworthy.

A blank page is a terrifying prospect, it represents the unexpected and the unknown. It is a space for triumph and a space for failure.  The page cannot be hidden, by nature it is visible to all.  The line that trails across the surface is a study in exploration. 

Much of my time teaching is spent reassuring the reluctant explorer.   My students want to know how to draw but are fearful at being judged.  Drawing is scary because our mistakes are on show.  I find it hard to teach drawing without teaching confidence.  Confidence to make mistakes, confidence to fix mistakes and confidence in expression of self.  The little but strong voices tear at the resolve of the learner.  ‘I can’t do this’, ‘ this is not good enough’, ‘this looks terrible’  The voices through their insistent calling render the learning insignificant, sweep pleasure from the experience and keep the artist at bay.

My reluctant explorers have been on my mind today. Lately I have been thinking about what I want from the next few years. I have felt frozen by the prospect of choice. Perhaps the answer lies in beginning, jumping in and feeling confident that the process will see me through. Feeling confident that if I make a mistake I am ok.

In drawing, confidence arrives through the acceptance of mistakes.  I often think that this relates to how we can live our lives.  Good drawing comes through knowing that everything is a study in progress.  ‘Mistakes’ in drawings reveal intriguing things about ourselves, what we choose to focus on and what we sometimes ignore.    How wonderful it would be if we allowed ourselves to show our vulnerabilities to reveal our self as a work in progress.  In disclosing our fears we are fearless. 

Young children are intrepid explorers.  Their marks are not accurate but they represent what is important to them at that moment.  They naturally improve because they have no concept of mistake, rather they are focussed on what they have learnt.  There is wisdom in that.

So today I vow to make a mark, be fearless but most of all open to failure.

For drawing tips see my post