The last two years have been transformative in my creative practice. Having been out of school for a few years, I see that the professional practices taught by my professors are only a few avenues to take toward a thriving creative life. Using the tools they taught me as a starting point, I decide how to live my life as an artist.
That’s an overwhelming and scary idea. If the whole world is your oyster, where do you start? I tried different things and started to figure it out. In the last year, I’ve uncovered where my creative desires are guiding my work and rethought assumptions that were keeping me from dreaming big.
Through a lot of introspection and creating new art, I’ve worked to reshape my thinking. There are four books that have been important to me at various points in the last two years. They are all hopeful books that encourage both contemplation and action. They’ve helped me immensely, so I’m sharing them with the hope that they will help others too, hopefully you!
The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer
Professor and metalsmith, James Thurman recommended this book to me a few years ago when I was still teaching. I sensed it would be an intense read for me and indeed it was. I checked it out from the library on three different occasions before I could garner the bravery to start. The book itself isn’t intense. In fact, I found the writing very gentle and heartening. It was my reaction to the words that was forceful.
I’d started The Courage To Teach hoping that it would help me be a better educator, but the more I read, the more it gave me the courage not to teach. At that time I’d felt drawn to the studio full time, but I was afraid. Afraid of letting people down and afraid of the unknown in the life of an artist. Parker’s words resonated with me deeply although they didn’t describe my experience as an educator, but rather how I felt as an artist. By the time I finished the book, my desire to work on my art full time rather than continue teaching was affirmed. I enjoyed teaching, but haven't looked back since making my decision.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Myrna Keliher, proprietor of Expedition Press, told me about her incredible experience with this book, so I decided to check it out. It’s part book, part workbook as there are tasks to do in every chapter. When I started reading I was skeptical that I would get anything out of it, but I read the chapters, did the tasks and by the end of Chapter Two I was hooked. I rediscovered passions of mine that I’d lost hold of over the years, worked through self-imposed limitations I didn’t realize were impeding my creativity, and learned to nurture a full life, not just an artistic one.
Julia’s suggestion to ask, “What’s next?” instead of “Why me?” ignited a big shift in my thinking. That simple question resulted in a lot of changes in the studio, around the house, and in how I approach my artistic practice. It’s led to me making plans to go on a “selfie residency” in the next few months. “Selfie residency” is my mental shorthand for planning my own residency rather than applying for a traditional one. When I was thinking about applying for residencies, the only place I wanted to go was the Olympic Peninsula, a ferry ride away, so why couldn't I do it on my own? I’m renting a place on the Peninsula for a few days so I can draw up new ideas and get inspiration from its gorgeous landscape. I won’t have to stick to a proposal and staying so close to home will be inexpensive. I don’t think I would have come to a self-made solution as easily prior to reading The Artist’s Way.
Making Your Life As An Artist by Andrew Simonet
My friend, Julia Owens, told me about this book. It is a quick, easy read. It’s a good book for the practicing artist needing a little encouragement to overcome obstacles or burnout. My favorite snippet that was just the right advice in thinking about setting up my own studio:
“ Apply the skills, creativity, and resourcefulness of your art practice into the rest of your life.” - p. 41
I bought a hard copy of the book (you can read it free as a PDF) and I’m glad I did, because it is a lovely little book in real life!
Encyclical Letter Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home (AKA Pope Francis’ writing on caring for the environment and our fellow humans)
Pope Francis is kind of a rock star right now. Reading his encyclical supports his rock star status. He knows how to say the hard truth yet make you feel like you can make a difference. He also explains issues of environment, poverty, human rights, and integrity so they are visibly connected. He makes these issues our responsibility and challenges us to solve them on small and large scales, in all venues.
Reading his encyclical added validation to the efforts I’m making in my artistic practice to minimize its impact on the environment and to attempt to make helpful contributions in the world. It can feel impossible to make a difference, but his words are full of hope and possibility. You can read the encyclical as a free PDF here.
What books have helped you? Any recommendations?