Somewhere Between Stretching and Focusing

I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares. 
--Saul Bass

I love this quote by Saul Bass. I found it on Pinterest and I've been thinking about it ever since. It's true--I want to make beautiful things even if nobody cares. And I think that's a very good place to start in any creative pursuit. Whether the work is intended for an audience, an exhibition, a gift for a friend, or even just something for your own home. I think it matters. And I think people do care.

But, ultimately, I think we have to care too. I'm preparing for a solo exhibition in late spring and while my tendency is to follow this quote--to make beautiful things even if nobody cares--I am also thinking about comfort zones. And about stretching. And about focusing at the same time. And about the opportunity for a public space to be a space to create something new. Or what it offers to the maker and also to the audience--a meeting or a gathering.

I can hear my yoga teacher talking about the importance of stretching and also staying grounded. I think that dichotomy is part of the creative process. And by creative process, well, I mean life! So often we can draw these parallels in the natural world around us--the plants, animals, and minerals that surround us. And so often I return to find my grounding there too. In the people and plants and animals that move around me. Webster's dictionary says, "Create: to make or bring into existence something new." I'll go with that definition too.

I'm thinking about fluidity in creative work, yes, but in our interests or creative living at large. Thinking about how as we grow more familiar with our own interests and passions we grow more familiar with our own inner landscape. We come to recognize our color palette. Our preference in patterns. Our favorite materials, objects, and textures. We recognize our favorite instruments, favorite spices, and our favorite children's books too.

Whether we're making an art installation or redecorating our living rooms or simply choosing the combination of garments we'll wear together on that given day--we grow more accustom to our own aesthetics and we can come to look at something and say, "That looks like me" or "That doesn't look like me" and we make decisions based on our recognizable likes and dislikes. We spend many years honing this aesthetic--through careful consideration or unconsciously as we age--and then we may or may not take the active step to disrupt what has become familiar.

And in this way we settle into something comfortable. Maybe reluctantly so or maybe with great relief. I experimented with so many different art materials in my teens and twenties that I felt great relief when I finished graduate school at 30 and saw a new decade of aesthetic focus coming into view. Relief! I work primarily with textiles, paper, text, and found objects. This might look like any number of different combinations or incarnations but I felt a relief when I could finally say that about my work. For instance, I do not consider myself a painter. I do not consider myself a dancer. I do not consider myself a novelist. And the list continues.

And yet, of course, this doesn't mean I might never use paint. Or use dance. Or use novels in my work. And anytime I had a student in graduate school tell me that he/ she didn't draw I would push her/ him to try drawing. I think there is power in the things we lock up and tuck away. And if we give them too much power by being defined by what they are not, or by being forbidden, then it's that exact power we will ultimately have to confront. So I'd encourage them to draw if they were insistent that they couldn't or wouldn't, because I knew there could be great inspiration locked in that space. Just try. Because what about the things we don't really know if we like or dislike? What about the unexpected?

So I'm preparing for a solo exhibition in late spring. The work will be centered on poetry, made into prints, and then transformed into a multi-media installation. And as I'm considering the space and the amount of work to add to the exhibition I'm finding myself circling back to my book arts work. And considering the lexicon I've created for myself in "things I do" and "things I don't do" and how this will all shift and sway and get a little surprising if it's really worth doing at all.  How I have to reconsider my own rules and agree to bend them as I go. To stretch and also to stay grounded.

I was struck by this recent note I read on Facebook from my friend, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, a performing artist, writer, and curator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. He's talking about the performance work of Young Jean Lee and her upcoming show, Untitled Feminist Show, that will be shown at YBCA in just a few weeks. Lee says, "When starting a play, I ask myself, 'What's the last show in the world I would ever want to make?' Then I force myself to make it. I do this because going out of my comfort zone compels me to challenge my assumptions and find value in unexpected places.”

Yes. Yes it does. It's the kind of quote that has stayed with me for several days and keeps inserting itself into my studio work. Even as I'm cutting paper or preparing prints or more so, as I just finished a grant proposal, I'm struck with the question of what I do not want to create. What I do not want in my studio lexicon. What I was relieved to shed and where I was eager to gain focus. And I'm trying to imagine a space for myself between Lee's commitment to discomfort and challenging assumptions and to Bass's commitment to make pretty things. Mostly, I think I want what Lee says at the end of her thought, "...To find vale in unexpected places". Yes. I think that's the hope.

So I'm starting this New Year walking the line. Going deeper with what I already know and also allowing some fluidity with what I have shed. Or what I have said, "I do not do that, that does not look like me" and where there could be possibility. Mixing mediums. Expanding intentions. Looking for inspiration in unexpected places. Trusting that there will be a cohesion in simultaneously focusing on the most essential elements while stretching to include the messy unpredictable parts too.

Trying to embody all that yogic thinking about creating a firm grounding in the feet and the legs and then stretching through the hands and the wrists. The grounding and the articulation. Leaning into this complicated space where I can narrow down and also expand. Because that feels like the most challenging and also the most powerful part in this next show. But, ultimately, I'm most interested in how all this thinking inside the studio can relate outside of the studio too. How can we stay attuned to our priorities and keep our focus and also really let there be space for the unexpected? For the beautiful? For the surprising? Because really, how can we not?



  1. Can't wait to see your show this spring! thanks for the thoughtful post...

  2. the delicate balance... looking forward to the beauty you make.

    1. oh, yes. the delicate balance, for sure. thanks for your good encouragement.

  3. <3 <3 love this and am so excited for your show!

    1. thank you! good to see you here, my friend.


Thank you for your comments, friends. I like to think we are creating a dialogue in this space--building a virtual community.