“You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Any place is better
Starting from zero got nothing to lose
Maybe we’ll make something
Me myself I got nothing to prove…
So remember when we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast, felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone”
– lyrics from Fast Car, Tracy Chapman
We all deal with constraints. Limitations in time, available funds, energy, resources, mental acuity, physical strength, self conception, city code regulations – 57 varieties of limitations and then some.
Or how about the weather? Why, two nights ago, my wife, Nan, and I sat out on our porch, enjoying 70 degree temps. We woke up yesterday and looked out the window at a couple inches of snow, with more accumulating through the day, and more, we’re told, on the way today and tomorrow. Bit early for that, in these here parts.
Usually I wouldn’t mind so much, and try to gently remind anyone who complains about the snow that there were not a few years where we would have been so glad to get moisture of any kind. Well, with the possible exception of hail. Besides, gosh, it’s nearly November! Out with the Indian Summer, fall into winter. My, how the year has flown by.
Still, we have a few build projects in various states of completion, and hope the white stuff doesn’t throw too much of a wrench into the works. One of them, my new studio, should be framed out this coming weekend, as confirmed yesterday by Joe Soulka, my framer, which will afford the ongoing project additional time-delay protection as a result of any further inclement weather.
Speaking of limits, yesterday, I was pre-shopping for welders. My last welder, a compact little Hobart, was seriously underpowered. As most of my work of late hasn’t required a welder, I sold the unit a few years ago.
But for the public art project I’m beginning, I’ll need some serious capability in the welding department, and have settled, I think, on a Miller Multimatic 255 Multiprocess Welder, which can mig, tig (with limitations), and stick weld. I’m mainly interested in its mig capabilities at present, which are considerable, especially compared with the Hobart. It’ll be like going from a pop gun to a rifle.
I won’t run any further down the list of machines I hope to outfit my new studio with, except to say that I hope a SawStop will make the cut, since it’s so good at avoiding them. (If you aren’t aware of SawStop’s technology, basically, it stops on a dime if the blade comes in contact with your skin, or, as I discovered after we installed one at the shop I supervised at the Colorado College, anything that conducts electricity – sometimes including “green” wood, i.e., freshly cut wood that hasn’t been kiln dried yet.)
Andy, heal thyself: put some limits on your writing.
Ok – despite wanting to tell you about my latest idea – to add a climbing wall to the studio – I’ll try to extract myself from any further tool (and related studio) talk. Suffice to say, as I surely will be after doing a couple laps on the climbing wall, I’m a bit pumped. So, I think, is Niels Davis, who’ll be assisting me (and easily outclassing me in the climbing department).
Even with the expanded studio space and fun new capabilities – heck, even with the capable Niels, I’ll be dealing with limitations.
Limitations are, after all, often a key ingredient for creativity. Take what I’m doing right now; trying to create a blog post that keeps you at least somewhat interested in what I’m so fully engrossed in at the moment.
John R. Trimble, in Writing With Style, subtitled Conversations on the Art of Writing, says that if the writer isn’t interested in their subject, the reader won’t be, either. But writers (and, may I insert, creatives of all stripes) often aren’t allowed to pick their own subjects; projects they’re passionate about. They’re “limited” by the scope of the school assignment, say. In Trimble’s answer to that dilemma, which involves creating a stake in the subject; treating it as a challenge to one’s powers of imagination, curiosity, and open-mindedness, I came across the following passage:
“I recommend we take a moment here to think about Russell Page, perhaps the finest landscape architect that England has produced, at least in the 20th century. Virtually all of Mr. Page’s projects were ‘assigned’ (commissioned), and often in the most unpromising locales – a marshland, say, or a windswept highland, or a property far too wide and far too shallow. Yet he managed to turn out one elegant landscape after another – truly gorgeous things. How? Mainly his attitude.
‘Limitations imply possibilities,’
he wrote in The Education of a Gardener. ‘A problem is a challenge.’ Isn’t that a beautiful way to view things?”
Limitations imply possibilities. A problem is a challenge. That’s what Joe, my framer, must surely be thinking, regarding yours truly, a.k.a. surely his most curiously wired client to date.
Speaking of which, being in the right frame of mind is one of the key components to success in any arena of life.
In the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, the author, Betty Edwards, introduces a number of interesting exercises intended to put the student, quite literally, in the right state of mind.
Edwards’ exercises are designed to break the left-brain dominance keeping some students stuck at the ability level they were at in elementary school – perhaps in third or fourth grade – and often, by the time they’ve completed all the book’s lessons, students have made unbelievable progress in their ability to draw. There’s a section in the book with before and after self-portraits that’s no doubt the reason many plunk down their money to buy it, now in its fourth edition.
One drawing exercise that is often employed by drawing teachers is having their students use their non-dominant hand to draw with. In part, the idea is to break mark-making habits that the students, unconsciously, are making with their dominant hands, and in part it’s a way to get them in a right-hemisphere state of mind.
Also in part, this breaking of habits was, personally, what made using forstner bits – hole-drilling tools made for wood yet not for carving – of interest to me as a carving tool. Having used them rather idiosyncratically in a past project, I knew that the marks the tool made hearkened, somehow, to something deep within me. Something fundamental to my aesthetic.
Yeah, at one time I didn’t know what the word meant, either. From the dictionary:
1. A mark, point, or sign added or attached to a letter or character to distinguish it from another of similar form, to give it a particular phonetic value, to indicate stress, etc.
“A diacritical mark or diacritic, sometimes called an accent mark, is a mark added to a letter to alter a word’s pronunciation (ie. vowel marks) or to distinguish between similar words. The word derives from the Greek word διακριτικός (diakritikos, distinguishing). Note that diacritic is a noun and diacritical is the corresponding adjective.”
Now, I realize that the word diacritic isn’t an art term – it’s a grammatical and linguistic term. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I like it so much. Like Rauschenberg’s making art from detritus
and like my using forstner bits – tools unintended for carving – to carve with, the word diacritic itself, when pulled from the liguistic arena and dropped into the art making one, exemplifies what it means.
I’m not aware if the term diacritic or diacritical mark is used by artists. I wouldn’t be terribly upset to find out that they are any more than I would be to find out that someone else has used forstner bits to sculpt with. Because again, the whole idea behind one’s diacritical mark is that, like their fingerprints, it’s theirs and theirs alone. In other words, whether or not the tools you use or the brush strokes you make or the studio space you have hearken to someone else’s, if they are “organically grown”; not simply employed to look like art or for you to look like an artist – if they’re natural outgrowths of your own personal creative direction – they are a part of your diacritical mark.
I’ll begin to close with yet one more personal, limiting, diacritical mark.
It’s 3:32 am on October 29, 2019. Early start to my day, today. Most likely I’ll catch another few winks, since there are limits to this fifty-year-old’s mental and physical energy.
I’ve found that a few hours of mentally expansive writing in the morning helps to put me in a thought-provoking state of mind throughout the day. Perhaps some day I’ll write about that and some of the other benefits of my (at times) daily dispatch.
But for now, I’ll leave you with the following thoughts:
While I hope that what I’ve written herein consoles any of you out there who have felt constrained by limitations of one sort or another, let me turn the tables and ask some more pointed questions:
What limitations have you accepted in your life as “set in concrete” that really need to be reexamined?
A few “for instances”:
I’m too old to learn a new language, or run a marathon, or start an art career…
I’m too young…
I’m not smart enough, or have enough funds, to start a new business…
I don’t have the time or energy to explore my creative side…
I have nothing of interest to write about…
The pilot light of interest within me has gone out, in fact..
I’ve already had my fifteen minutes…
It’s too complicated to fix…
No one would understand…
I’ve two left feet…
That doesn’t conform to the image of me that I’ve presented to the world for my whole life…
Why should I turn the other cheek and forgive that person?
I’d rather starve than ask X for advice, or admit I was wrong, or admit my parents were wrong, or that they were right…
There’s no way they’d choose me; I’m outclassed, outmatched…
It’s not possible…
It doesn’t make sense…
I don’t have enough talent…
I’m not creative…
It’s impossible for me to lose weight… or gain weight…
Or quit smoking…
Or quit drinking…
Or quit lying to others…
Or to myself…
I have no diacritical mark…
Why, take me, for one final example:
I’m a “full time studio artist”. Yet if you saw me in real life, you wouldn’t find anything particularly artistic about my dress, or my mannerisms, or my hair (that’s hair in the singular form, lo siento).
Furthermore, here I find myself yet again, incongruously pecking away at a keyboard in the wee hours of the morning at my dining table. What gives?
Well, who says visual artists can’t co-opt writing as a creative “tool”?
For me, writing has been a key diacritical mark. It informs my creative thought process. Focusing further, I’ve realized that most, if not all, of my posts, including and especially this one focusing on limitations, have the diacritical distinction of being about possibility.
Potential energy. I feel it coursing through my veins (or is that the second cup of starter fluid I’ve nearly finished?).
I imagine it originating in my heart and mind, conducting through the letters I’m typing at this very moment, entering and exiting the ether, projecting upside down at the back of your eyeballs, wherever you are in this wide, wonderful, often upside-down world of ours. Passing into your brain, filling your heart. Filling you with courage. With a renewed sense of wonder. Of childlike excitement.
I’m hoping you will create your own stake in the subject;
That you will treat it as a challenge to your powers of imagination, curiosity, and open-mindedness.
Yes, Andy, I can hear you say, but what about my limitations?
I have them too. Some rock climbs are beyond me at present. Some climbs that Niels can do with ease will always be beyond me. But be that as it may, I hope to take a page from Mr. Page, and hope you will, too.
‘Limitations imply possibilities,’
‘A problem is a challenge.’
The challenge: how to slip an aircraft cable up and around a girder we couldn’t reach even with the genie lift fully extended, in order to hang a sculpture in the Plaza of the Rockies, back in 2014, as a part of that year’s Art On The Streets Exhibition. The solution? A little ingenuity and one highly capable climber.